Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are becoming vital to businesses, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos going so far as to threaten to fire employees who didn’t implement APIs. Clearly, APIs are a big deal. But what, exactly, are they?
While often discussed in technical language, the concept is simple. APIs are interfaces that allow different software programs to communicate with each other. They enable devices and programs to exchange data safely and fluidly. An API works like a mailman moving letters from mailboxes to the post office. It engages with different programs (the mailbox and the post office) and exchanges data (letters) between them. This exchange is quite secure (the mailman doesn’t open the letters).
So how should APIs affect how you do business? There are several key ways they should change your business’ operation.
- APIs should automate unnecessary tasks
APIs automate tasks that once took up time. For example, a shipping API such as ShipEngine can use package data to automatically compare rates across different carriers. Whereas normally you would have to check each by hand, a shipping API accesses the data automatically for you.
Your business should use APIs like these to eliminate time spent on unnecessary tasks. APIs automate the grunt work, freeing up large chunks of time and resources that can then be used for more important objectives.
- APIs should fuel growth
Because APIs allow you to cut down on unnecessary work, you regain time and resources that can then be used to grow your business. It’s like APIs give your business more hours in the day; you suddenly have more energy to devote to business growth.
What’s more, APIs can encourage other businesses to add value to your product or service. Because APIs allow streamlining and shared information, they encourage collaborative growth. One striking example is Fitbit. Fitbit let third-party developers use their API to build apps based upon Fitbit’s health data. This led to innovative new apps like MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal. APIs fuel growth, both internally and externally from third-party collaborators.
- APIs should encourage collaboration
As mentioned, APIs can facilitate innovation from third parties. But they can also lead to collaboration among direct competitors. While that sounds surprising, it’s already happening everywhere in the market.
For example, this happens in the transportation industry. Apps like Citymapper, Transit, and Moovit all work to integrate transportation data. These apps harmonize walking, cycling, driving, and public transport data to give the user a complete experience. Transportation companies let these apps’ APIs use their data, alongside their competitors’ data, to produce one unified customer experience. In this way, APIs incentivize competitors to collaborate when it benefits both parties.
- APIs should increase customer trust and engagement
APIs should raise your standard for customer trust and engagement. APIs have huge potential to increase customer trust. For example, if you use an API to ask customers to sign up with Facebook, they may be more likely to comply with the request. The Facebook brand is universal and familiar. By using it, your sign up gains authority and trustworthiness.
APIs also encourage greater customer engagement, making it easier for them to share content with their social network. You’ve definitely already seen this: share buttons under articles are an example of API in motion. APIs like these allow users to seamlessly engage with and distribute content to their friends. This keeps current users interested in your brand while simultaneously bringing in new users.
- APIs should be a priority
If your business is not already using APIs, you’re likely in trouble. If you are using them, there’s a chance you could benefit from more aggressive use. APIs are revolutionizing the market, and your business can’t afford to get left behind. In the last decade, the number of public APIs has skyrocketed by over 10,000%. The world’s most powerful and innovative companies are all implementing API technology. If you don’t follow their lead, you may be crushed by your competitors who do.