Industry insights, Software development

What’s so important about APIs?

What’s so important about APIs?

Everyone wants to save time and money. Organisations are constantly on the lookout for better and faster ways to deliver increased functionality into their business and to their customers. What better way of achieving this than re-using existing solutions that work wherever possible?

When developing software, organisations are looking at leveraging APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces) for the benefits they offer. As they’re reusable, they take the strain off future resources and minimise operational costs, working in varying combinations depending on the required outcome and tasks necessary, allowing organisations to get to market as fast as possible. Executive at BBD, Norman van der Mescht weighs in on how re-usable APIs can streamline projects and enable businesses to quickly meet changing internal and customer demands.

Benefits of APIs

In its simplest form, an API is an accelerator that allows for the reuse of code and functionality, ultimately enabling quicker development on projects and a faster time to market. APIs:

  • Allow data to be easily accessed, created, modified, or deleted at various points in the solution in a consistent manner
  • Can regulate business rules across multiple channels and enforces behavioural consistency
  • Allow consumers of APIs to communicate with internal or third-party systems
  • Can also provide re-usable visual components required to build an application uniformly, allowing for rapid development and deployment, thereby speeding up the overall delivery on various projects. Some of these components include inputs, buttons and switches
  • Provide an easy-to-understand interface to achieve complex goals
  • Can abstract integration into third parties be it data sources or other APIs and become useful when a business wants to create a canonical model for their own channels and/ or when they want to monetise their online APIs

We have recently been building a library of end user features for clients in the banking and telecommunication sectors amongst others. “Although the whole project only took three months to build, we do feature developments on this library on a continual basis to ensure that we stay up to date with what our clients require” says Van der Mescht. As this particular library contains UI elements that are frequently used across projects, BBD is able to pull from this library and reuse elements in different projects, meaning streamlined delivery that quickly meets client and business demands. “The library has allowed us to increase delivery by up to 40% – meaning a faster time to market with richer functionality and ultimately a more consistent user experience.”

Van der Mescht states that APIs are beneficial to clients because they allow systems to communicate internally or beyond the boundaries of an individual company, which is necessary when, for instance, your platform allows your customers to earn loyalty points on an affiliated programme, or within the eCommerce industry when these APIs enable customers to view a product catalogue, add items into the cart and pay for these items at checkout.

So what exactly are APIs?

An API is a software intermediary which allows two different components in a solution to communicate with one another to gain access to data or specialised functionality. “They are reusable libraries of functions which software engineers use as accelerators to develop applications” explains Van der Mescht. In many cases, these functions require data in a particular format so that the relevant tasks can be performed.

APIs can either be one-directional, meaning that no response is returned back to the consumer, e.g., send an email, or bidirectional, where a response is sent in relation to the data (for example, when a hotel booking request is successfully created in the database then the API will return a booking number back to the user).

How can they be used?

There are various ways in which APIs can be used. One of which is where they are embedded within operating systems, such as an API provided by the operating system on a mobile device that enables you to utilise the device’s camera from your app or website. Or, when embedded within the application itself, an example would be when you want to utilise a hardened API that gives one excel type features as well as its associated features irrespective of which operating system you are on.

APIs can also be used remotely via HTTP(/S), MQ, TCP/IP amongst others. These remote APIs are generally used to standardise business rules across multiple channels, to write and store data or consistently perform standard functions.

Costs

APIs can be paid for by purchasing and receiving an API key or license that will govern certain Service Level Agreements in order to support a certain amount of availability or number of transactions in a specific timeframe, while others are open source – meaning they’re free to use but come with no guarantee of quality, or uptime.

Open APIs, truly drive innovation as open-source technology that is available to anyone to add or enhance a function and contribute those changes back to the community. This allows everyone to get immediate access to the latest features or bug fixes irrespective of whether their project needed it or not, van der Mescht explains.

The bottom line

APIs are like Lego blocks. A house, or your system, is built using many different blocks. APIs provide standardisation, customisation and innovation and act as the necessary building blocks when creating an application. This allows for sharing and/ or monetising functions between businesses or partners, or in accessing data at various points in the process. Users have the choice to customise their APIs, meaning that they decide what they would like to combine depending on the required outcome. Finally, combining APIs can lead to real system innovation as the user has the advantage of creating something entirely different to meet the functionality they need.

Ultimately, APIs are embedded into applications all around us, whether we notice them or not. If you would like to learn more about how APIs could benefit your development project, chat to us.

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