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What are APIs and why do they matter?

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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When building any kind of application, the term “API” will be discussed in depth by your developers. So what does this three letter acronym mean and why is it important to your business?

What is an API?

API is short for “Application Programming Interface” and it defines how developers can make different items of software communicate. PCMag defines an API as:
A language and message format used by an application program to communicate with the operating system or some other control program such as a database management system (DBMS) or communications protocol. APIs are implemented by writing function calls in the program, which provide the linkage to the required subroutine for execution. Thus, an API implies that a driver or program module is available in the computer to perform the operation or that software must be linked into the existing program to perform the tasks.”

Why do APIs matter to your business?

Traditionally software was designed to act in isolation. Finance had an accounts system, sales used a CRM database and the warehouse had a stock management system each of which existed as a standalone product.
But in age where transparency is essential to agile and profitable business, these data silos are no longer acceptable. And this is why APIs are important.
APIs perform two major roles – application customisation, and data interchange.
For the greatest benefit, your software needs to mirror your business processes. Although some systems function extremely well out-of-the-box, eventually your business may need to develop add-ons or enhancements that better reflect your way of working. APIs provide “hooks” on which developers can hang additional modules or code.
Similarly APIs are used to link two disparate systems for data interchange. APIs define how datastores are accessed, the correct format for reading and writing data, and again provide the hooks for extending functions and screens to display the additional information.
However as the mobile revolution continues, APIs are still increasing in importance. Without the right APIs in place, your mobile strategy could be over before you even start.

APIs – your mobile future depends on them

According to industry analyst Gartner, “A next-generation mobile strategy will identify how the APIs that enable the mobile capabilities will be sourced and managed.
By inference, current mobile strategies are able to get by using limited APIs. This is probably because most mobile apps are taking the same one app-one job approach of traditional corporate IT software. But the emphasis of a holistic view of data drawn from multiple sources means that mobile apps will also need to be able to access multiple systems in future.
Without extensive APIs, linking disparate systems for access via mobile apps will be next to impossible. Businesses will need to carefully consider API provisions when outlining their mobile strategies or risk failure from the outset.

Staying on top of your APIs

To ensure mobile strategy success, it is important to understand the resources you currently have available, and what you will need to add in future. Before beginning any planning at all, you need to map out your existing internal and external API provisions and institute a register to record those details. Benchmarking in this way gives an accurate indication of current capabilities and shortcomings.
It is also important to assess whether the current API management tools are capable of meeting your mobile IT needs. Do your tools provide adequate access, management and scale functionality to build future-ready solutions? This information can also be added to your API register to help build a roadmap for API development.

APIs and security

Because APIs are designed to make data access easier, they are by design a potential security risk. This fact serves to underscore the importance of maintaining a register of APIs – particularly those that are accessible externally.
As well as providing digital security measures to protect data, your business needs to ensure that there is a strict governance regime in place to control data access. Again, these details need to be documented and reviewed regularly to ensure that data security is maintained.
Special attention needs to be paid to external APIs – particularly those coming from the Cloud. External APIs need to be treated differently to their internal counterparts to prevent data being exposed or accessed by unauthorised parties.
All of your API management efforts need to based around the three CIA principles:

  1. Confidentiality – is data being stored and accessed securely? Is it properly protected from loss, theft or abuse?
  2. Integrity – is the data being returned via APIs accurate? Is the data being written back via API equally accurate?
  3. Availability – are APIs making data available as and when required by your mobile users?

As mentioned earlier, APIs are the lifeblood of your future mobile strategy. It is vital then that your business begins managing current and future API provisions to ensure IT remains a strategic asset.
To find out more, speak with Dootrix