You may have heard your techies talk about APIs or ‘web services’ when discussing new features for your website or software. Simply put, an API (or application-programming interface) is a set of programming instructions made available to 3rd-party programmers by a website or software program that enables the 3rd-party to control some of that program’s functionality.
An example in retail could be online store Amazon, who have an API that lets a programmer access Amazon’s product information in order to display products on another website with an automatically updated price and a “Buy Now” button. This is a common consumer scenario that you’re probably familiar with but you may not have come across so many ways cases where an API can help in a business-to-business scenario.
1. Consume a Live Feed
Does your business need an up-to-date source for some external data such as currency exchange rates or commodity values? Rather than relying on manual data entry that gives a snapshot view of soon-outdated info it is usually straightforward to plug in a ‘live feed’ (which often means an API) to give you the specific data you need at the time you need it. The data can then be easily manipulated or stored in your own database, giving you a copy for future reference if you need it.
2. Automate Your Cloud Apps
Do you use any cloud-based applications for project management, invoicing or file storage such as BaseCamp or DropBox? Often the more modern apps offer API control for some of their main functions. This means you can create invoices or upload documents using some simple programming script, without having to login to the app yourself.
If you use a database in your office then it may be simpler than you think to connect your data to your cloud-based apps and save yourself a manual job for certain routine tasks. Check your app’s help section and search for ‘API’ to see if your vendor offers this feature.
3. Receive Data From Other Systems
You can also use APIs to transfer information between different web applications. When an HR department creates a new staff member in the HR system it often triggers the need for that new staff member to be registered on various other 3rd-party tools and systems – often a laborious manual job.
Using APIs you can automate such setup with some programming script so that the creation of an HR record triggers matching registrations in one or more other systems. If you have more than one related system that offers an API then the productivity gains can be significant.
4. Use Dynamic Mapping Functionality
Is your business interested in geographical locations or routes between destinations? Using Google Maps‘ popular API you can achieve excellent visuals for places on the local or global scale. You may already have maps on your company website but does adding a new branch office to your firm’s database automatically update your map? Can you view the location of your mobile staff on a real-time map when they are out in the field by tracking their company mobile phone?
If this would give you business benefit you might be surprised how cost-effective this type of work can be… using powerful APIs.
5. Aggregate Data From Multiple Sources
Bringing together multiple feeds from various external sources can be an excellent way of comparing data without manual effort. Rather than pulling stats from various suppliers and pasting them into an Excel file for filtering and sorting it may be better to work with your contacts to setup an API that allows your firm’s software to query their data directly.
The classic example of aggregration via APIs is the ‘price comparison site’ phenomenon but with co-operative business partners you might be able to save days of admin and analysis work each month with some smart use of APIs to receive data automatically.
These are just a few examples of the cases where an API can transform a business process with often surprisingly little technical work. With so many business-days lost to inefficient back-office processes, it makes sense to look at APIs to speed up your data management. To find out more about how we could help, visit our site or reply in the comments.