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What Is An API And How Does It Benefit Your Business?

Taylor
Insights reporter
13th Sep 2022
6 min read

If you’ve ever heard your in-house tech team or software agency partner throwing the word “API” around and wondered what on earth it is, then you are not alone. Perhaps you have a vague idea of what an API is but are keen to learn more about what the ‘techy’ term actually means for your business. If this is the case, then you’ve found yourself in the right place.

Here at Rocketmakers, we’ve worked with a range of businesses, from fledgling startups to large organisations, on a variety of software design and development projects involving APIs. We understand that for those from a non-technical background, the world of APIs can seem overwhelming and horribly complex. Fear no longer — we’re here to break it down for you. 

The basic definition of an API

Ok so first of all, an API stands for Application Programming Interface. In a nutshell, it is simply a way for different applications to communicate with each other. It is a type of software interface, offering a service to other pieces of software. It enables your product or service to communicate with other products and services without the need to know how they’re implemented or what they’re written in.

Let’s use a non-technical analogy to help explain the concept further. Picture this — you’re living back in the day, before using the internet or messaging via phone were a thing. You’re off to a dinner party later with a neighbour down the street, but you’ve forgotten what time it starts. You ask your child to run down the road and ask your neighbour for that piece of information. Your child does just that and then delivers that information back to you. In this analogy, your child is the API. They are delivering information/ data to you without the need for you or your neighbour to move. 

Now let’s take a look at some of the common ways that APIs are used in almost all of the software, websites, and mobile applications we all use today.

Example use cases of APIs

While you may not have noticed them, APIs are truly everywhere, playing a massive role in our everyday lives via the apps we use and the websites we explore. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common use cases.

  • Weather snippets: If like many, you use Google search or apps to check the weather, then this is a prime example of an everyday situation in which APIs are used. The apps are not themselves collecting the data, rather they are pulling that data through an API of a third party such as the Met Office.
  • Smart speakers: “Alexa, what’s an API?!”. While smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa may appear to be the fountain of all knowledge, the software would be nothing without the help of a wide range of APIs (No offence, Alexa)
  • E-commerce payments:  Over the years,  PayPal has become a popular payment platform globally. The payment solution’s API is commonly used by e-commerce stores to enable customers to make purchases. 
  • Travel booking: Ever wondered how travel sites such as Booking.com and Trivago are able to showcase the cheapest option from thousands of flights and destinations? Well, that’s by using third-party APIs to collect the flight and hotel data from providers. 

What are the business benefits of using APIs?

We’ve covered what an API is and some of the most common use cases that everyday people experience. Now, you might be wondering why so many businesses utilise APIs. Here at Rocketmakers, we’ve helped ambitious clients across a variety of industries implement APIs for a number of reasons (you can check them out here).To help explain the value of doing so, we’ve outlined below some of the benefits businesses can experience from using APIs below:

1) Fuelling digital transformation

A connected experience is a huge driver of enterprise digital transformation. The use of APIs allow a business to streamline its operations through the development of innovative business models. The creation and maintenance of custom integration between several apps can be expensive and time-consuming. APIs' ease of use and cheaper cost encourage experimentation and innovation and ultimately, scalability.

2) The automation of tasks

For many businesses, the integration of APIs has been a critical part of their automation strategies. Through the use of connected applications, previously manual operations are now made simple through API interfaces. A digital business can be built faster and with less effort thanks to APIs. This efficiency of workflow means your business can save on costs, time and efforts whilst increasing productivity.

3) Enhanced collaboration

APIs enable partnerships that would not otherwise be conceivable by acting as an easy interface between apps inside and outside the network, which were previously not designed to connect. Furthermore, it enhances collaboration within the workplace. Using the APIs of various platforms utilised by teams is a great way to bring together disparate data sources into one trusted place. This way, employees can access up-to-date information and connect and share ideas with their colleagues far easier.

For the English Institute of Sport's PDMS project, we created an API to allow a sport-specific application to automatically extract key data from their user’s performance data management system (PDMS) data. The goal of this was to enable athletes and medical professionals to share information appropriately and to the right people. The kind of cross-organisation collaboration involved in this project would have been impossible if we didn't write an API for it. 

4) Faster software delivery 

Another benefit is that the implementation of an API distributes the workload, helping a team of developers work more efficiently together. For example, you can have a database team and an API team and work on those two areas in parallel with multiple people, making backend code faster to deliver.

5) A better, more personalised user experience

According to one study, 77 percent of consumers prefer to choose, recommend, or pay more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience. The use of APIs enable businesses to provide a more tailored and personalised experience for customers due to software developers being able to access and use data and functionality from other programmes.

The user experience (UX) will be more customisable and personalised as a result of the developers' ability to modify the website or app content to meet the needs of users and visitors. 

6) Greater value proposition

Businesses can deliver the connected digital experience that customers expect by using APIs made available by companies such as Salesforce or Amazon. By being able to integrate with other popular tools and applications, businesses will make themselves more attractive to customers, helping to gain a competitive edge.

By now you have learned of the many ways in which the use of APIs can benefit business — from helping to create innovative and scalable solutions to completely enhancing the user experience of your application. Here at Rocketmakers, we have built a magnitude of APIs and integrations for a variety of ambitious clients, from student rental platforms connecting renters and landlords to mental health platforms that help users easily find support groups.

Are you interested in implementing your own API? Reach out to our expert team today to hear more about our bespoke software solutions and API development services.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash.