by Doug Breaker • January 26, 2023
Modern business runs on software. This involves storing business data, and moving that data from place to place. In the old days, software stored the data in a siloed fashion. This meant it was only available in one place, cutoff from the rest of the world. Companies struggled to pull data from different locations. Combining it in meaningful ways was difficult. This isolated data only provided a fraction of its potential value. In modern applications, the data wants to be free. With the onset of the web, data is available everywhere. Sharing data has had an exponential effect on the power of software. Applications share data using some form of API, or Application Programming Interface. With the explosion of available APIs, it has become more difficult to manage it all. API Integration allows you to combine, track, and add new APIs.
In the early days, the database emerged as a revolutionary tool for storing and retrieving vast quantities of information. It allowed for search capabilities on a scale never before possible and brought the once paper-based records into the digital age. Businesses were thrilled with the newfound ability to answer a multitude of questions with ease. However, as the software industry continued to evolve, new types of applications and databases emerged. These separate databases caused a problem as the need for data integration became increasingly apparent. The data was scattered and trapped within the individual applications, unable to be seamlessly accessed and utilized across the organization. Businesses had unknowingly created silos for their data!
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To free the data, systems needed to communicate with one another. In the late 1970’s, Remote Procedure Call (RPC) systems began to arise. RPC provided a common interface and data format. This allowed computers to communicate with each other. By today’s standards, this architecture required a great deal of expertise to create. It involved complicated coding, was brittle, and expensive. But it worked. The imprisoned data could begin to stretch its legs.
Over time, RPC implementations became more robust and standardized. From the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, standards gained prominence. CORBA and Microsoft’s DCOM were two examples. Standardization made it easier to write code that could communicate. Different teams could work independently, and combine systems. Better transport mechanisms and message reliability made things work better. Still, by today’s standards, these technologies were still difficult and expensive. A famous paper highlighted pain points the developers were feeling. The industry slogged on, continuing to try to find a solution.
In the 1990’s, the World Wide Web (WWW) begin gaining traction outside of academia. In the late 90’s developers begin using Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to communicate. This widespread standard solved the problem of “how do we send message from point A to point B”. Popular operating systems such as Windows and Linux supported it natively. HTTP used the networking port 80. Because of all the web browsing, it was open by default on firewalls. However, disagreements about what form the data should take still rumbled.
At first, the software industry embraced two frameworks. Web Services Description Language (WSDL) defined the format of the data and services. Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) described how to send it. The combination of these two specification laid out “rules” of communication over HTTP. While a good idea in theory, they quickly became overwhelming. They were difficult to maintain, and painful to implement. Too much of a good thing, you might say.
Finally, in 2000 Roy Fielding published a groundbreaking paper. In it he describing the Representational State Transfer (REST) architecture. This approach provides a simple mechanism of exposing:
This simple representation of business entities and operations works very well. With it, REST eliminates much of the complexity and overhead of earlier approaches. No more struggling with definitions, schemas, and standards. A consumer takes actions against resources. Very straightforward. With these recent advancements, API creation is finally within reach of almost anyone. In the years since, we have seen an explosion in the number of available APIs. APIs serving almost any functional area exist for consumption. According to ProgrammableWeb, there are over 20,000 publicly available APIs. This rapid growth has created an ecosystem of API directories and management solutions.
With APIs so prevalent in the industry, API integration has become super important. There is an ocean of data, and thousands of places to pull it from. An effective application leverages different APIs to maximize their power. This can include:
The data can also come from external sources. This can include:
Modern applications can search, filter and combine this data. They can access multiple data sources at a time. The application’s utility and power grows. No longer is a firm required to build out massive data sets themselves. Once someone collects the data and publishes the data, the cost is never incurred again. For example, look at Google Maps API. The cost of mapping every road, location, and border in the world is astronomical. But now that it’s done, we don’t need to do it again. With API integration, knowing what already exists can accelerate solving a business problem.
Oftentimes, there is no need to re-invent the wheel – simply pull the data from an existing API. API directories can assist with this discovery. Like a phone book, they allow browsing for the right service. They provide thorough documentation and tutorials.
Client libraries allow rapid consumption of APIs. Discussion boards offer a community of help to aid in getting started. With these available tools, developer stand on the shoulders of giants.On the flip side, a business can choose to expose their own valuable information in a public API. By hosting their API, a business can provide their data to others. This can drive traffic to their site, and help build their reputation. If the information is valuable enough, the company can charge for access to the API. Suddenly, what was once a cost can become a revenue stream! Plugging their API into an API directory advertises their business to other developers. These actions can have a multiplier effect on the value of the data. Consumers can feed back into the system, improving the data.
When it comes to integrating APIs into your business, there are numerous best practices that can help ensure a smooth and successful implementation. Some of the most important things to keep in mind include:
API integration is a fundamental component of digital transformation and enables organizations to connect and share data between systems, applications, and platforms. By understanding the importance of API management, and following best practices, organizations can ensure their API integration is secure, efficient, and reliable. It is also essential to remember that API integration is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and improvement to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and industry standards. Organizations that prioritize API integration and stay committed to best practices will be well-positioned to successfully navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape and gain a competitive edge in the market.
API integration can bring a wide range of benefits to an organization, including:
Efficiency: Businesses can streamline their processes and automate tasks by integrating different systems and applications through APIs, resulting in a more efficient workflow. This can lead to cost savings and increased productivity.
Scalability: API integration allows for easy scalability, as new systems and applications can be added to the existing architecture without significant changes to the existing infrastructure. This makes it easy for organizations to adapt to changing business needs and grow as they expand.
Innovation: API integration enables businesses to leverage the latest technologies and services, such as cloud computing, big data, and artificial intelligence, to create new and innovative products and services. This can help organizations stay ahead of the competition and create new revenue streams.
Data Integration: APIs allows for seamless integration of data from different systems, which can enable organizations to gain new insights and make better data-driven decisions. This can be particularly valuable for businesses that rely on large amounts of data for decision-making.
Customer Experience: API integration can enable businesses to create a more seamless and personalized customer experience by integrating customer data from different systems. This can help organizations to better understand their customers, provide more personalized service and ultimately increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The benefits of API integration can help organizations to become more efficient, scalable, innovative, data-driven and customer-centric. It helps to improve security which is important. By properly implementing and managing APIs, businesses will be able to unlock a wide range of opportunities to drive growth and success.
If you’re sold on the idea of using APIs to power your business, what’s next? If your business sits upon a large number of separate data stores, the chore can seem daunting. The cost of developing an API layer for each system could cost thousands of developer hours. Time and effort better spent elsewhere. Money better spent elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice to generate these API layers? Some sort of code generation mechanism that made all that data available in a modern REST API? Friends, that day is upon us!
The good folks at DreamFactory have built a system that does API Integration. Start with some simple configuration. Then, with a few clicks of a mouse, DreamFactory generates powerful APIs. Feed it your database connections and legacy SOAP APIs, and out comes a robust REST API. Complete with sparkly documentation. It looks like a team of developers took months to create, but is available to you in minutes. To learn more, check out a few beginner-level videos at DreamFactory Academy, or read the guide at https://guide.dreamfactory.com. Slash your budget estimates. DreamFactory’s API integration has lifted a large cost of software development off your plate!
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