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What’s an API and Why is it Important?

When buying software just remember that a well-written API can provide some very important long- term benefits.

Commentary - For many business leaders today, their first questions on this topic might just be, “What the heck is an API?” It’s not an issue discussed as often as other software considerations but it’s certainly just as important.

An API is an application programming interface, or an interface that enables controlled interaction between different software programs your company is using. In other words, it’s a way for developers and other software packages to integrate with your system.

So, now that you know what an API is, why is it so important? Well, an API particularly comes into play when companies or organizations invest in software to help run their business. While most CRM, ERP, CMS software vendors provide APIs for their software, this is not always true for vertical software. This type of software is usually built with an industry segment in mind, like pharmaceuticals, theater groups or doctors. You name an industry, someone has probably tried to write and sell software for it. Those that succeed often know their industry very well but may not have thought about the long term needs or have the sophistication required for some organizations.

It is important to evaluate the software’s API. A well-written API can provide some very important long- term benefits. Here are a few:

Integration with other systems
Let’s face it, most companies today (large or small) are running their business using a variety of software programs. They might use one piece for accounting, another for CRM and yet another for project management. The need to tie these systems together is becoming increasingly important. APIs are a way to do just that throughout your entire organization. The better the API, the more you can integrate the systems and run your business more efficiently.

Take control
Not all user interfaces are the same. The system you own could be very complex and do a lot of things. Maybe you like the software overall but found that your people find performing a few specific tasks difficult and time consuming.

Entering time, for example, could have been left as an after-thought as compared to other software capabilities. However, in your company, time entry is critical and employees are finding the screen unusable. Perhaps all the data points you need to capture are there but you just can’t enter them in easily. A well-written API would provide you with the tools to redesign that interface into something that better suits your needs. Just like that, a set of ugly screens turns into something employees will use and appreciate. They can even be branded to your unique company.

Engage your customers and vendors
Perhaps your system runs your entire organization. Often the next logical step is to get customers or vendors interacting with your data to improve efficiencies. In the case of your customers, it would make sense to include them in your process. With a well-written API, you can extend portions of what you do to the web both relatively easily and with confidence it will work the way you need it to.

For example, we have customers who have extensive membership management systems to run their organizations. The software they use provides a way to view membership information, buy items, etc., however it is not flexible and doesn’t meet the needs of their user base. One size does not fit all. With the API, we were able to create a customer portal that is written with their customers in mind.

Having a well-written API in your system allows you to make minor tweaks without the costly expenditures of new software. It’s why more business leaders need to realize what exactly an API is and how much it can improve company efficiency, not to mention the bottom line.

biography
Roy Chomko co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001, combining a passion for technology and the desire to build a company focused on driving business value through web technology. As president, Roy's energy and customer centric approach have helped to grow Adage to a well respected web and software development firm.