If you work in an industry where technological innovation is valued, then you have likely heard the term API. However, unless you are extremely technically literate then it is likely that you aren’t familiar with this term, especially as it can have such a broad range of meanings. Because of this, turning to the internet can confuse your understanding of what the term API actually means in the sense in which it is most commonly used. You’ll no-doubt find hugely detailed articles referring to a range of different practices (many designed to be read by students of computer science), all of which can be called an API.
If you’re confused, look no more – this article will help you to understand what an API actually is in a business context, as well as how it can be used to benefit your business.
What is an API?
The term API is an initialism, referring to the term “Application Programming Interface”. It’s no secret that this is a greatly overused term that can refer to several different practices depending on the context. It is most commonly used to describe a software intermediary that facilitates and defines multiple software intermediaries. Essentially, an API is like a messenger. It takes information from one place and gives it to another system that can use that data in a specialized way. It is that simple, which is why APIs are basically everywhere online and why they are so varied.
To help elucidate the point, when you get in your car and use a navigation system that gets data from Google Maps to help you navigate (whether that’s an in-built system or an app like Waze), that navigation system is taking information from Google Maps and using it to help guide you to your destination. That is an API in action and Google provides the API framework that allows navigation systems to take its data.
Similarly, if you have a ‘share to Facebook’ button on a blog, that is using an API to connect the blog and Facebook, allowing users to share content easily. APIs have so many uses that they are becoming increasingly common and valuable for businesses.
What is the power of APIs for businesses?
Possibly the biggest value that an API gives businesses is that it allows you to access information without building a database yourself. This means you can use maps, databanks and even software that is provided from another source. That translates to a huge saving of time, as well as employee resources and, of course, money.
There are many ways in which specific APIs can improve many different types of businesses. For example, if you work in the electrical engineering sector, you likely use a search engine called Octopart to quickly find electronic components and compare prices. Octopart also has an electronic parts API offering, which allows any company to integrate this search for electronic parts into their own intranet or application, allowing their engineers to easily find components and save much time in the process.
Another example of an API benefiting your business is relevant to those in e-commerce. If you don’t have bank details set up, you can take payment by giving your users the option to ‘pay with Paypal’. That is an API at work – it is a secure framework that allows the end application to take payment, without exposing customer data and giving permissions away.
As APIs just serve as a data intermediary, companies can find very creative methods to use their data to their advantage.
The sky is the limit. You can also automate many API systems, meaning you can reap the benefits of other software or databases even faster!