API Integration – What Is It & What It Means for Your Organization
January 9, 2020
Organizational leaders in the evolving technology world are often faced with data & software integration challenges. When the need to connect disparate software & data for reporting becomes a big business problem, leaders can guarantee their IT teams will recommend an ‘API Integration’ as a potential solution.
So what does this mean for you as a leader & what steps should you take to ensure you come up with the best plan to achieve optimal system integration for reporting, auditing, & compliance purposes? This article is intended to help you understand what ‘API Integration’ really means & how you can better engage with your IT teams to come to an expedited solution.
API, also known as Application Programming Interface, in basic English means a piece of software that performs a specific task (i.e. application), programmed to perform said task (i.e. programming) using an interface to tell said software what to do (i.e. interface). Easy enough, right? But why are API’s used so frequently in today’s business to integrate systems & reporting?
Here are the basics:
- Platform Independent: Let’s just say most of your organization’s software utilized to run your business is hosted on AWS cloud infrastructure, or – even more common – all of your organization’s software sits on premises in a tiny closet inside your office using a server built on a relatively old Windows operating system (OS). When you build an API integration, the integration between software does not depend on the OS platform; rather, it is built using a service package that will run regardless.
- Upgrade Safe: Let’s refer back to the previously referenced servers that are sitting in a tiny closet inside your office & let’s say they are about ready to be upgraded next quarter: API integrations are self-contained; therefore, the integrations you put in place using an API will not ‘break’ upon system upgrade(s).
- Ease of Use: No need to hire computer engineers with 20+ years in software development experience; APIs are built so that your existing team of developers can easily connect & transfer commands for software integration with the API.
Think of APIs as a method that disparate applications within your organization can transfer information to & from one another, executing tasks upon receiving requests through an interface created for an individual API. When called using the appropriate commands, the interface will exchange necessary data to successfully integrate the data between the software.
Now let’s talk about the types of APIs that, as a leader, you might hear floating around the IT office:
- Native APIs: These types of APIs are built & run natively on an OS. Think of these as high & low level tasks performed on the OS, including:
- Low Level APIs: Phone vibrating, microphone, camera, etc.
- High Level APIs: Calendar, sending a push notification, opening a browser, sending email, contacts, etc.
These types of APIs are often the most time consuming, as they can contain many different native programming languages & sometimes hardware to execute the application successfully.
- Google browser when you search using keywords
- Travelocity when you enter dates & locations to find flights or hotels
These APIs are more lightweight in design, relying on a certain set of programming language constraints as a part of the browser’s underlying code framework. These also typically take less time to develop and are less expensive solutions.
- Hybrid APIs: Think of these types of APIs as a combo of OS & Browser functionality. Examples of these APIs include:
- Facebook App on your phone
- Bank of America Banking App on a Browser
These APIs are like apps you have on your phone; they are downloaded to your phone natively but also leverage browser based functionality to operate. Often an organization would create Hybrid APIs for customers to engage with your organization’s business. They are also more time consuming than web APIs in that they often have many API integrations within a single solution.
When your IT managers are discussing APIs as a solution for software & reporting integration, it is imperative that you know the type of API they propose necessary, as this will help you drive the conversation & understand staffing & project budgetary constraints on deploying a solution.
Now let’s talk about security of APIs: Yes, this is often the most daunting of tasks but also the most necessary to ensure that as a leader you are prepared to discuss the security of your solutions, viable options to address security breaches, & how to prevent stolen data. When IT teams discuss security, you will most often hear terms Authentication & Authorization. What do these terms mean?
- Authentication: The process of proving your identity using credentials. To ensure that APIs & underlying data are in the right hands, it is imperative that APIs request your credentials. This can be in the form of a username & password, dual factor authentication, or keys.
- Authorization: The amount of resources you have access to when connecting to the API. When an API is designed well to protect the underlying data within the application, your access will grant you only the necessary information & data you need to operate the API.
As a leader, it is imperative that you understand the approach in both authentication & authorization that IT teams will implement as this will ensure you understand their approach to safe guarding your precious internal assets & data.
When Business leaders are equipped with the basic knowledge of software integration through the use of APIs, they can make better decisions regarding resource management, budgeting, timelines, & security. SC&H’s experience & understanding of combining disparate data sources & using industry leading technology & tools will help your organization reach is maximum potential in informed business decisions.