APIs in the enterprise is a hot topic and justifiably so. Being flexible in how your enterprise distributes and uses information will help you become more competitive, as well as able to offer enhanced service to employees, customers, and others. As their name indicates, Application Programming Interfaces consist of functions that define and enable interactions between an application and other systems or services.
An enterprise is typically both a consumer and a provider of APIs, and in many cases, the business is much more of a consumer. It helps employees get just the information they need, quickly and efficiently, and is particularly beneficial when your enterprise has legacy systems that need to communicate with your more modern applications.
You have options to create APIs supporting customers as well as members of the public who have no specific connections to your company to date. Some enterprises opt for free APIs for anyone to access, while others set up internal, employee-only APIs or develop paid APIs to provide valuable data to other companies connecting to their system. Now it’s time to become more familiar with what APIs can do in the enterprise and examine some use cases for inspiration and edification.
APIs in the Enterprise
Before designing, developing, and deploying Application Programming Interfaces in your enterprise, it’s best to keep in mind their capabilities. That helps inspire new development, giving you some parameters to work with.
CIO described a project from Pitney Bowes, which explained that “Thanks to API-based business logic, our clients can now review multiple shipping scenarios and choose the one that best matches their stated strategy. For example, the lowest cost delivery route that meets specific on-time delivery criteria, or the option that uses specific modes of transportation to more economically move the parcel, or ensure the lowest environmental impact.”
Pitney Bowes credited the use of APIs to spur growth in shipping. Before harnessing an API, a shipping logic project could take at least two years to fully complete, but now it only requires three or four months. This amounts to about an 85% reduction in time needed.
Application Programming Interfaces serve different users, either internal or external to the enterprise. MuleSoft indicated that therefore, enterprises should come up with a strategy for both types. “When an enterprise business releases public APIs that power consumer-facing applications, it enables new ways to engage and connect with its customers through web, mobile, and social apps. And by developing private APIs, businesses can offer their employees and partners new tools that help them streamline operations and serve customers even better.”
Your computing infrastructure may need some upgrading before you implement APIs. If handled in-house, your IT team will prepare for new hardware as needed, or you can deploy APIs on a third-party platform. Keep in mind that APIs must be supported with high-bandwidth systems and high-performance architecture.
At the same time, you have to ensure nearly perfect uptime, since reliable access to the information is at the heart of API convenience and utility. And since API connections to your company data can make tempting targets to criminal computer hackers, your API launch will not be complete without first ensuring tight security against tactics such as denial of service attacks and malware efforts, as pointed out by Vamsi Talks Tech.
Use Cases for API in the Enterprise
When you and fellow stakeholders meet to consider options for deploying application programming interfaces in your enterprise, it’s useful to consider examples of use cases for API other companies have implemented.
As Vamsi Talks Tech put it, “The simplest use case for any API implementation is to provide information retrieval. This includes such use cases for a Free API (which typically accesses non-private information) to a Paid API (which securely accesses business-sensitive data stored in Book of Record Transaction (BORT) systems.”
MuleSoft provided a hypothetical example of an automobile insurance company offering nationwide service. It has developed a massive database of comprehensive, always updated information about the nation’s road quality.
The company then has developers build apps for recommending optimized driving routes based on this data, through a mobile app that uses the API. Civic groups could pay the insurance company to use this same data to support petitions for funding transportation infrastructure. And the insurance company itself can now let potential customers use the API data to request quotes on demand by mobile phone.
There are many ways companies can start to use underutilized data to great effect for end users. CA Technologies noted that Netflix created an open API to encourage developers to code for streaming service on more platforms, giving them exposure to a much wider potential audience and giving existing customers additional options to connect (vital for maintaining engagement).
Another example is Facebook, whose partners use the social network’s API to let visitors to other sites log in via their Facebook credentials. And another major company made famous with API is Salesforce, which uses API technology to work with any type of customer relationship management or CRM system.
Considerations Before Deploying APIs in the Enterprise
Getting organized and determining project goals and milestones is essential for carrying out a successful API launch in the enterprise. When you create your checklist of tasks, these considerations will help smooth the way.
Determine who will develop the API. If you’re doing this internally, it may involve taking programmers off of another project, so a review of pending deadlines might be the first order of business. When you lack the staff to take care of API programming, you can make new hires or work with a contractor temporarily.
The level of commitment to staffing here will depend on the complexity of the API and the amount and type of data it works with. Another factor is how much updating you estimate will be needed (and how often).
Your enterprise will also need to clarify whom you will allow to access the API. Not only access for developers (staff or contractors) but also which people will be allowed to access the information through applications.
“Regardless of the developer audience that will consume your API, you want to make sure you have control over who is granted access,” noted Tiempo Development, which added, “You can do by using API keys to authenticate developers, users, and calling programs associated with a project.”
When you have those details ironed out, there is another issue that demands your attention: How will you make the API available to users? Options include releasing it through a developer portal, an API storefront, or an API publishing platform.
A final crucial task to build into your timeline involves documenting the API. You’ll do this whether an outside contractor built it or if it was handled in-house. The API must be understandable to those who will be called on to modify it in the future.
APIs will not necessarily remain in place forever. Determine who in your organization will be responsible for terminating APIs when their purpose is no longer truly needed, such as if you start using an alternative system to serve information on demand.
Define what a successful API deployment will look like so you have clear standards for your team to consult during internal development or when you are about to sign off on API work done by outside contractors.
Growing Your Enterprise with Application Programming Interfaces
With so many options to grow your business, it’s time to give serious consideration to implementing application programming interfaces in your company. APIs for internal use will help your employees do their jobs more effectively, while APIs you develop for vendors or partners are designed to boost efficiency, saving them time and giving them a much richer source of information to work with. You can also make a case to develop public-facing APIs, giving customers easier and more comprehensive access to valuable data.