Peanut butter and jelly.
Tom and Jerry.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
There are some things that just don’t make sense without the other.
If your business is operating without an API in the age of digital transformation you're missing out on opportunities that will take your business to the next level.
APIs are a vital ingredient for businesses that wish to operate more smoothly internally as well as those that want to compete more fiercely in today’s evolving markets.
That’s why we put together this primer to help you understand the ins and outs of APIs and why you should make sure your business is taking advantage of their power.
So sit back and relax. We’ve got a lot to cover.
What is an API?
API is short for “application programming interface.” Confused already? Don’t worry. Let’s compare an API to an ATM to better understand each key element.
When you go to use an ATM, you expect it to connect you to your bank account so you can withdraw cash. The ATM has to facilitate communication between you and the bank to complete this transaction.
Just like the ATM, an API is like a messenger that’s constantly carrying information (input and output) to and from connected applications as well as databases and devices.
Programming is the code that a software engineering creates to translates input into output. It’s how an API exchanges information between the tools (apps, databases, etc.) it connects.
In this example, the ATM is the “programming” that facilitates the communication between you and the bank. It translates your request for cash to the bank’s database, verifies there’s enough cash in your account to make the withdrawal, gets permission to complete the withdrawal, and tells the bank how much you withdrew so the bank can keep your balance up to date.
The ATM’s user interface (UI) is the screen, keypad, and cash slot. It’s where you interact with the machine to complete a transaction.
An API is the interface where the transaction takes place. Instead of you and a bank, it’s software exchanging input and output in order to complete a transaction.
In this example, the ATM is the interface you and the bank are using to exchange communication to get something done. Instead of connecting physical end users, an API is the interface that a piece of software can use to access something it needs (like data, other software, other applications, etc.) to achieve a goal.
Companies such as Slack, Shopify, and many others create public APIs in hopes that developers will incorporate their functionality into new platforms. This mutually-beneficial partnership makes it easier for developers to build out new tools while the API provider gains users and brand awareness.
Private APIs are those which a company uses internally. Typically they’ll help the company’s software products communicate with each other to achieve business goals.
Companies can update their private APIs as often as necessary. Changes to public APIs should be done with plenty of warning and careful documentation so as not to “break” other software that’s relying upon them.
How do APIs Matter for My Business?
Just like software itself uses an API to achieve a goal, digitally-transformed companies all around us use APIs to achieve their own various sales and business goals.
Then you’re familiar with using tools powered by APIs to make your life easier. And the companies using these APIs are finding it easier than ever to provide their offerings on the various technology platforms that are becoming ubiquitous in our everyday lives.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why business leaders should consider APIs for sharing services with external firms.
Today, a business without an API is akin is to the internet without the World Wide Web software that shuffles vast amounts of knowledge (and Friends memes) back and forth.
In the fourth Industrial Revolution, APIs give organizations the connectivity they need to enter emerging markets, adopt new business models, and meet changing customer expectations.
New Business Model = New Revenue Stream
According to “the largest API directory on the Web,” there are over 20 thousand APIs in existence today.
Most of those APIs don’t represent a unique idea that some tech genius dreamed up.
Instead, companies are shaking up their business models and introducing new revenue streams by repackaging the unique functionality that they’ve developed over time into neat little APIs.
There are plenty of big platforms out there for whom APIs generate as much or more revenue than their original, traditional business models.
Salesforce generates half of its revenue through APIs provided in its AppExchange marketplace, Expedia’s travel aggregation APIs generate 90 percent of its revenue, and eBay uses APIs to manage a variety of transactions and generate 60 of its revenue.
You don’t have to come up with the next “Uber for [insert ridiculous service like ‘mending socks’ here]” and invest tons in marketing and distribution to gain traction with investors or customers in a new market. All you have to do is learn how to repackage your skills into an API that developers want to use and you’ll be well on your way to a new revenue stream.
The sharing economy has officially gone beyond vehicles and homes to include the very technology upon which our businesses are running.
Grow Your Technology Strategy
Today, many organizations are refining their product strategies and incorporating new technology strategies to cash in on digital transformation. (Need a tactical roadmap for digital transformation? Say no more.)
The speed at which you’re able to develop, deploy, and keep features up to date can make or break these strategic efforts.
That’s why effective communication isn’t only important among teams and people—it’s imperative that your technology stack and software components are empowered to “talk” to each other.
APIs help all your different internal systems communicate so that your system can consistently operate at max speed and efficiency.
Solid APIs also lend themselves, and your business, to being more readily adaptable. A well-built API can be modified and updated without the need for expensive downtime or even more expensive new software.
Plus, good APIs just make developers happy.
One of the best ways to attract (and hold on to) top tech talent is to provide an awesome developer experience. While there are plenty of ways to achieve this, prioritizing keeping your APIs organized and easy to use is a great place to start.
Smooth Biz Ops Like Butter
It’s likely your business is running tens of different software programs and platforms across multiple departments including accounting, sales, HR, marketing, and IT—just to name a few.
The more technology you integrate, the harder it becomes to make sure your end-to-end workflow runs smooth as butter day in and day out.
That is, unless you’re taking advantage of APIs—whether developed by in-house IT pros or a third-party provider—to keep your biz ops flowing smoothly.
Good APIs don’t just make it easier to tie together key steps in your business strategy, they also make it easy for software engineers to go in and make updates or fixes without crashing or reinventing your entire business flow.
But perhaps best of all, great APIs open the door to digitally-transformative business operations features you might not have the time or resources to build on your own.
You already know that customers and employees want to interact with your businesses digitally, but it’s hard to know where to start.
Aragon Research’s 2018 report “Automate the Enterprise” calls digital transaction management (DTM) one of the best “on-ramps” for enterprises looking to pursue digital transformation.
And how do they recommend getting a foot in the door when it comes to DTM? By digitizing documents and document processes.
That’s why we created HelloSign’s API (complete with an open SDK, clean documentation, and developer-run support for your IT team) to help you do everything from simply collecting an eSignature to creating a fully-digital, white-labeled eSignature workflow that can be seamlessly embedded right into your website or application.
Sure, the functionality behind an API can get pretty technical. But with benefits like creating an opportunity for a whole new business model and revenue stream, future-proofing your technology strategy, and bringing your business operations into the twenty-first century—we think it’s important that APIs matter to you, no matter your industry or technical skill level.