What Is An API And What Can It Do For My Business?

I was recently at an industry event in London and found myself speaking with a highly qualified and experienced developer. This is the kind of guy who has been building voice applications for decades. And he was pissed.

He was pissed that the years of experience he had building voice apps didn’t mean anything anymore, that younger programmers were just as good at building apps as he was. That’s because today you don’t need to build as much thanks to APIs (application programming interfaces) that work with seemingly everything. All of the skills that used to be his competitive advantage have been productized by companies who have created easy-to-use APIs and charge fractions of a cent for usage.

Organizations should take this lesson to heart- it’s no longer about what you can build, but what can be built by everyone else. We have entered a “composable” economy- one in which competitive advantage is established simply through customer service and composing available technologies in new and creative ways, rather than building them from scratch

What is an API?

APIs (application programming interfaces) can be a tough concept to wrap your head around, but essentially they’re programming instructions and standards that allow web applications to work together.

Take Yelp as another example. When you type in a restaurant on Yelp, it shows you the location of the restaurant on top of Google Maps.

Instead of creating their own mapping system, Yelp works off of Google Maps’ existing API, telling it to display a map with the restaurant location and rating. APIs allow Yelp to add Google Maps to their own site, without making customers leave the site altogether. Yelp developers can also edit the code provided by Google to create something new tailored to their needs, in this case, displaying restaurants and their reviews.

What API Can Do For Your Business

If it sounds complicated, don’t worry. What you need to know is that by using existing APIs, you can:

  • Improve time to market. By using web applications that leverage APIs, entire solutions can be created in a fraction of the time it would take to build them from scratch. This approach also demotes the need to understand best-practices for certain capabilities, since the company providing the API understands them for you.

  • Reduce risk. Your company may only be able to hire one developer, but big companies like YouTube and Twilio have a lot more developers on hand. As a result, their APIs are tried and tested, meaning that when you add their API to your application, you can rely on the strength of the larger company.

  • Control costs. It’s cheaper to work off of an existing API than to develop the functionality you need from scratch. You’ll also save costs related to development and deployment.

  • Be flexible. There are many open APIs, meaning they’re available to anyone interested in integrating a service like Twitter into their app or website. Developers can add APIs to their site that tell two different web apps how to interact, then customize it.

What is your strategy for this API economy? Are you getting the most out of the APIs that are available to you? Consider using the resources that are already out there to build something new, amazing, and unique to your company. That’s what OneReach and Twilio have done, allowing us to manage toll-free Twilio numbers with our OneReach app.

If the technology you are using doesn’t speak API, it might be time to move on.

To learn more about API integration for your business, visit onereach.com.

Photo by Flickr user Nat Welch.

Published by

Kevin Fredrick

Kevin Fredrick is a Managing Partner at OneReach, where he works with companies to offer effective customer support over SMS. His passion for technology and the study of human interactions has led him to a career in customer experience management. With over 10 years experience in sales and product management, Kevin is a skilled leader and manager whose expertise spans several industries. Kevin received his MBA and his bachelor's in Management and Marketing from the University of Denver.

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