A Primer on API Integration

No doubt you've heard about the rise of communication APIs as the leading way to enable business transformations for a digital future. As you consider whether APIs have a place in your environment, here's what you need to know about the integration process.

A successful platform is essentially a software base that users leverage to work with other software and content. Microsoft Windows and its various iterations is probably the largest example of a successful platform. However, what happens when two different systems have to interact? A great example of this is how Apple made it possible for the iPhone to connect with a Windows-based PC. Apple was clever to create an early-on instance of iTunes for Windows, which became its platform within other platforms. This became the successful terminal through which Apple allows iPhone users to manage their iPhones, music, and other digital content.

Getting Set Up

Not all platforms can speak to one another immediately. To enable programs to "talk" to one another, engineers established a process and programming method called the application program interface, or API. APIs allow technical sources the ability to "hook" two or more platforms together based on a few foundational programming methodologies.

To work with APIs, most programmers must have an understanding of the rules behind HTTP and the local programming languages involved in the software. Understanding the practices and methodologies of representational state transfer, or REST, also helps programmers build better connections between systems. In order to access the systems, most APIs leverage OAuth, an open standard for authorization.

In order to make full use of the power of API services provided by various platform systems, enterprise organizations and service providers should understand the following elements: platform as a priority; strategic objectives built on tactical execution; the goals of APIs; and how to work with HTTP, OAuth, and RESTful services.

Platform as Priority

As the cost of servers, memory, and disk space fell in the past decade due to digital transformation, a new market opened for the management of data services. Software as a service, or SaaS, became a new way for the IT industry to serve businesses of all sizes -- reducing the cost of operating IT services and increasing scalability. Taking advantage of the SaaS model, many companies began migrating data from on-premises solutions to cloud services.

As a result, Amazon, Apple, Box, Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft, among many others, rushed to provide online content management. Each has taken a different route, but strategically they all have the same general goal: be the customer's primary source for content management. With that, you need to understand APIs in terms of overall strategy and tactical execution of that strategy:

  • Strategic Objectives -- With the myriad of options out there to connect to and be connected with, cloud/platform content management providers must be specific in their use cases in order to optimize the value of API features. Once they identify requirements, enterprises can then review the ability of a platform to connect with their existing business systems.

  • Tactical Execution -- No strategy can be effective without defined tactics. This is where programmers and technical resources shine, bringing about value from leveraging the API. Most APIs have source code, notes, wiki pages, examples, and other pieces of information programmers and developers need to read before executing on the strategic objectives.

Goal of the API

The goal of an API is to allow systems to talk to one another and execute content-sharing based on business needs. If the business cannot define a way forward for its needs, or cannot envision a purpose for the connections between various systems, APIs may end up being a waste of time. API configuration is not difficult to maintain, but is tedious to change or modify. Therefore, making many changes to the system can be a massive problem and so makes the question of an API part of a larger business decision.

Tradeoffs

As more users live hybrid lives, that is, using multiple platforms, APIs will continue to grow in importance and value. However, being able to maintain and understand how these systems connect -- or ought to connect -- takes serious effort with various costs involved. Working with APIs and meshing them with business management needs takes technical depth. Many businesses do not seem to understand the true value of APIs. Understanding how to best leverage them for the business needs requires serious planning and discussion.

Once connections have been made with one system via APIs, severing connections with that platform becomes increasingly difficult -- so having a clear plan and end goal is paramount.

APIs can be powerful connecting tools between businesses, business applications, and the platforms used to access data. Many of the big platforms on the market today provide some level of API integration. In order to leverage an API, business must identify specific requirements around their needs and tactically execute them. Otherwise, APIs become cumbersome to build and maintain.