Data lies at the core of digital transformation efforts and is a key to organizations making more strategic business decisions. When it comes to managing, sharing, or acting on data, tools that prioritize communication between disparate systems have become incredibly valuable for organizations looking to take that next step forward.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) have become essential in connecting tools for business purposes. There are different protocols for how APIs can be leveraged (REST, SOAP, gRPC, etc.), but we’ll save that topic for another day.
While APIs have been in use for years, how organizations approach them has changed. With more than 22,000 APIs available for public use, they are no longer just a means for connecting apps, but are now products that empower developers and marketers alike to unlock new business opportunities.
Historically an IT interest, APIs should now be valued by all stakeholders and incorporated in some way into an overall strategy. If leveraged correctly, APIs become business products that offer access to basic building blocks for new innovations, promote the streamlining of data for greater efficiencies in business processes and procedures, and create lasting value from legacy technology investments.
APIs are a critical component to creating new connected experiences. Whether it’s retrieving data from different systems, composing data into processes, or delivering a specific customer experience, APIs have evolved into reusable building blocks to leverage in new development by mitigating the need for reproduction.
We’ve seen the use of APIs transform industries across the board. Some prominent examples can be found in the tourism, hospitality, and transportation spaces by companies like Uber and AirBnB. These companies enable almost any user to transform their vehicles and homes into sources of income, and it’s all made possible by APIs. Both companies capitalize on several publicly available APIs for their functionality — tracking services, real-time maps, mobile-payment options, calendar and scheduling access, and so on. By creating new as well as leveraging available APIs, these apps can be used by hundreds of thousands of riders and guests all at the same time.
These are just two examples of companies have that have reinvented its industry through their use of APIs. It’s important to note, too, that authors may extend customization for a fee or use the data APIs collect to make improvements to a product, or the API itself, for better user experience.
Research estimates that the average enterprise organization uses 91 different martech tools. Now, imagine all the data that reside on each. Without APIs, this data would likely only live within its respective tool. With APIs, data can be packaged for use by other tools to deliver value for customers and teams alike. As organizations look to streamline and automate processes, APIs can drive significant benefits by managing, integrating, and delivering data across all types of devices, channels, and platforms.
Let’s take a look at most enterprise marketing departments. Most teams have a hefty digital stack consisting of tools like a content management system (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) platform, analytics solution, marketing automation tools, social media scheduling solutions, personalization, email marketing … the list goes on. These technologies can use APIs to leverage all of the best point solutions of each tool across an organization to drive efficiencies.
For example, let’s say a user completes a form or downloads a piece of content from a website. Upon submission, this information can be shared to a CRM to create a new lead record, schedule follow-up tasks for a sales resource, and trigger a marketing email to be sent to the user. This is just one small example of how APIs enable automated processes for greater efficiencies in business operations.
In another example, Facebook and PayPal allow other applications and services to “piggyback” their offerings through the use of APIs. When customers are online shopping, a site may require account creation for checkout. In this case, the site may make use of Facebook’s API to enable account or login creation or to fill out other information to complete a purchase. This promotes a more seamless checkout experience which in turn should support increased conversions. Through the use of PayPal’s API, customers can skip the checkout process entirely, including entering payment, shipping, and billing information by logging into a PayPal account from the retailer’s site.
These are just a couple great examples of creating efficiencies in processes for teams and users. When teams can look at APIs as a tool that leverages the best of other tools, the opportunities become limitless on how value is delivered.
Organizations that have older tools and platforms face the decision to either maintain those legacy investments or address system challenges with new digital solutions. Aging technologies were not originally developed with cloud and IoT capabilities in mind, so APIs are a way of extending an older application’s features, encapsulating its data and functions, and making that data and functionality available as a service for more modern tools. As a result, APIs allow for data from two systems of vastly different languages and interactions to be translated and shared for business use.
In the financial services industry, much of today’s banking infrastructure relies on legacy technologies and architecture. Yet, APIs have completely reinvented the way that consumers bank. What once was a mandatory, regular visit to a physical branch, users can now manage and monitor personal financial activity on the go via web apps made possible through APIs.
Businesses that find ways to create value from outdated technology can, in return, create greater value for the customer. By harnessing current technology and infrastructure capabilities with APIs, financial institutions have been able to extend the longevity of legacy solutions and establish new ways of engaging with customers.
How to best leverage APIs, and with what tools or methods, will vary business to business based on use cases and desired results. But whether it’s simplifying product development, enabling self-service, or creating organizational efficiencies, APIs are helping to drive business transformation and enabling the delivery of great customer experiences.