The acronym API stands for Application Program Interface and is a term which many of us are becoming familiar with in our private and professional lives. But, what does it mean, and what impact could an API have on you and your organisation?
To start with, you have probably benefitted from an API without realising you were even using one, for example, last time you were on social media and checked the weather forecast, you were using an API. That’s because an API lets your service or your product communicate with other products and services without having to know how they are implemented. So, in the example of being on social media you benefited from an unseen API between the platform and a weather app.
As the intermediary between two applications, an API provides an exciting opportunity for innovation, enabling an organisation to save time and money whilst growing and improving its customer experience.
APIs have been around for decades, but have grown significantly with the introduction of web APIs. As the Tech Giants (Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon) have created ecosystems of hardware and software and exposed them to developers via APIs their use has multiplied. In recent years, as the popularity and trust in APIs has rapidly grown, organisations across many sectors are investing in and adopting APIs which will improve the customer experience.
Who develops them?
An API can be created by any technology provider to provide access to their hardware or software, but will typically only be created and published to meet a specific need or goal.
How do you connect to an API?
This will vary depending on the nature of the API and how it is published but typically documentation will be provided on the syntax and types of call available, the data provided and how the calls or connection are authorised and controlled. Most APIs follow a set of standards such as REST API which make development against different APIs more consistent.
How secure are they?
An API by definition provides an added layer of security between applications or hardware, as access to the data is controlled through the API definitions. An API can only access data for which it is authorised and designed, so neither end point can fully access the other’s data.
Can you switch off the API?
An API can be blocked by one or both ends. The provider can disable a users access token or completely unpublish the API. Likewise a subscriber can revoke access to the API or simply stop using it depending on the way it is implemented.
What are the benefits of an API?
- By connecting other systems to Iken clients can maximise existing infrastructures
- Ability to connect with key organisational systems such as reporting, financial and contact management
- Organisations can use APIs to accelerate product development
- Leverage 3rd party products and services to create a better experience for both end users and customers
- Maximise the data held in house, often siloed in teams
- Departments can securely share data even if they rely on different IT systems
What are the disadvantages of an API?
APIs provide many benefits to both parties, but publishing an API will not achieve anything until someone has developed the call from another application to make use of it. So the time or effort involved in hooking into an existing API is the main obstacle. However, once this has been built then it can be reused again and again. The other disadvantage for a user of an existing API and associated integration between two applications is if additional data is required, as this would require the developer to maintain/update the call.