APIs are the unsung heroes of the digital age. We’ve all heard of them, and some of us even know what they stand for (Application Programming Interface), but we don’t always know when we’re using them.
If you’ve used Google Maps, Facebook, Uber or PayPal, chances are you’ve experienced APIs without knowing. If you’ve ever shared a page using social media icons, that’s made possible thanks to APIs. APIs add value, and improve your customer experience. They can even uncover new revenue streams.
What are APIs?
To understand APIs, think of them as messengers which, says software firm Mulesoft, ‘take requests and tell the system what you want to do, then return the response back to you’.
Ryan Higginson, Vice President & UK/ROI country leader global SMB solutions explains that they are simply a way of allowing two applications or different websites to talk to each other – like a waiter in a restaurant, relaying your order to the kitchen, then bringing it back to your table.
Ever searched for a flight through a travel comparison website? You’ll notice thousands of flights are being searched for you and the results appear on your screen in seconds. These results are delivered thanks to APIs: the travel website interacts with lots of different airlines to find the results you’re looking for and reports back.
APIs have been behind the scenes, busy doing their thing for years. They’ve come to the fore recently along with the rise in the strategic importance of digital transformation to businesses. In fact, says Apigee in its ‘State of APIs’ report, “The increased pace of digital transformation in enterprises is evidenced by a large increase in API traffic, which has grown 2.8 times year-over-year”.
APIs fit perfectly with today’s data-driven, ‘instant gratification’ customer demands, and can enable users to access information that isn’t otherwise available – for example, the Twitter API might give you access to Tweets not displayed in your stream.
APIs and benefits to your business
Businesses large and small can improve their operations and deliver a better customer experience by getting smarter with APIs, whether opening up their own data externally; using APIs to access other data lying outside their own organisation; or using APIs to improve internal processes. Businesses with API strategies in place are improving business processes and workflows; improving collaboration; achieving greater transparency and visibility; identifying and minimising risk; eliminating errors in addressable data; enabling more accurate forecasting and driving innovation. They are also using APIs to monetise their data, by making particular data sets available to partners and programmers. Salesforce.com, for example, generates 50% of its revenue through APIs, Expedia.com generates 90%, and eBay 60%, according to a ‘The Strategic Value of APIs’.
88% of businesses are already using APIs, according to a CA Technologies study. Those businesses who are particularly API-savvy – ‘Advanced API users’ – with a relatively mature API strategy are seeing measurable benefits such as a:
- 47% improvement in both customer and partner satisfaction
- 45% increase in transaction volumes
- 45% reduction in IT-related costs
83% felt APIs helped them drive competitive differentiation.
APIs driving an improved customer experience
One strategic advantage of APIs is that they enable businesses to deliver a better customer experience. They do this in a number of ways, including:
- Delivering a highly personalised, relevant experience – the more data you gather on a customer and their preferences and behaviours, the more highly personalised the experience can become, and APIs enable the creation of vast repositories of customer data. You can build a detailed, accurate customer profile
- Driving data accuracy – for example, you can confirm that your customer’s contact details are correct without chasing them for the information, and you can complete any gaps in contact information via an API
- Delivering value – for example, if your business involves shipping or sending, you can identify which shipping services are available for the best rates, so you’re always delivering best value
- Keeping your customers better informed – if they are leaving your site to search for other things elsewhere, you can use APIs to offer this functionality through your own site, saving them time and offering a seamless experience
- Driving innovation – facilitating a mobile strategy, for example
BeyondB2B.com ‘How are companies using APIs?’ cites a European utility company, which has a Customer API to deliver more than 30 services, allowing users to manage their accounts, receive energy saving tips and control their bill using mobile devices. Here at Pitney Bowes we’re using APIs and Apigee to help securely deliver new data-powered digital solutions to our customers, and to enable our internal and external developers to build new products more quickly. It’s helping accelerate innovation at an unprecedented level.
Organisations own, access and manage huge amounts of data. Finding new ways of transforming processes and unlocking revenue with this data could help secure your business’ future. APIs’ critical role here must not be overlooked.