Think about all the software you use to run your business. These may be huge platforms, like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Or they may be targeted: marketing automations, workflow management, internal communications channels, etc. Whatever they are, they’re probably proliferating.
Netskope’s July 2021 Cloud and Threat Report found that enterprises with 500 to 2,000 employees averaged 805 cloud-based apps per month—and that’s cloud apps alone. Everything’s easier—and some things may only be possible—when these systems are integrated. Siloed systems can’t share data; that could leave you stuck moving numbers from one window to another most of your working hours. Integration solves the problem.
For decades, one key technology allowed software systems to work together: an Application Programming Interface, or API. If you use computers, you benefit from API integrations, which are so common as to be nearly invisible to casual users. But if you don’t have a strong background in Information Technology (IT), API integration can be hard to conceptualize.
Here are the basics of API integration, meaning, specifically, what it is, where it’s deployed, and what you can do if an API doesn’t solve your integration challenges.
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Before we discuss integrations, we should define the term API—and to understand what an API is, it helps to define the component terms:
An API is the software layer that allows two digital systems to exchange data—and often functionality. But what’s an API integration?
An API integration is a connection between two or more digital systems—web applications, desktop platforms, any type of software—that allows them to share data.
People can also interact with a system through the API, but generally, when we discuss API integration, we’re talking about system-to-system communication. But APIs aren’t static machines that perform a single task the same way for every user. Programmers build APIs with specific functionality in mind and may give users lots of options for how they perform. They can also provide access for other developers to build third-party apps that enhance the functionality of a given platform. In short, there’s no one standard API—and API integration may not be available for every combination of applications, at least not without custom coding.
Generally speaking, APIs break down into three categories:
Any combination of these APIs may be used to create custom system integrations—but, again, that generally requires a team of developers. To get a better idea of how APIs function in practice, let’s look at a few examples.
To most users, API integrations look like core functions of an application, so they can be hard to spot. Here are a few examples drawn from both everyday internet use and enterprise computing:
One of the main purposes of an API integration is to achieve digital automation—letting the machines complete data-handling tasks so human workers can focus on higher-value tasks. But APIs are a hard-coded form of integration; changes, updates, and corrections require significant IT resources. In other words, they require coders, who can take months or years to build an integration—and who charge accordingly. So, API integration does have its limits. That leads to our next question.
As we mentioned, APIs have been around for a long time. An API for legacy systems might not provide the functionality you need—after all, today’s business goals don’t always match the developer visions of 20 years ago. Even newer APIs are built to do certain things: To share one set of information but not another, for instance. Unless you have the IT power to program an API at the code level, you may want to look for an alternative.
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Rather than integrating software systems individually, digging into APIs to allow them to interact, the Nividous digital automation platform approaches the process as a whole. It gives users a single-pane-of-glass interface that operates through every system, even where APIs fail. In short, it automates entire business processes from beginning to end—and that automation takes place through connections between software systems.
When APIs don’t work, intelligent automation will. This technology integrates systems either at the data level or by operating through their user interfaces, so you bypass the API entirely. Users interact with one system—the Nividous platform—solving the growing problem of multi-platform fatigue.
What does systems integration with intelligent automation look like?
Of course, APIs remain a significant part of the technology stack. Legacy systems will stick around for a long time yet; we’re unlikely to see the day when API integration isn’t a core part of systems architecture. But intelligent automation, which handles complex computing problems with Artificial Intelligence (AI), provides seamless system connections without the downsides of API integration. Contact Nividous to learn how intelligent automation can improve operations—and software integrations—at your company.