What is an API and Why Should Your Business Care?

Andrew Carpenter
June 13, 2017

API stands for application programming interface and if that sounds like gibberish, you are already being left in the dust by the competition. APIs allow developers to build connections between their own applications and other applications, enabling data sources to interact. In the past, businesses that wanted their software systems to interact had to purchase expensive ERP software and implement cumbersome, time consuming solutions.

APIs make it easy and cheap for business tools to "talk" to each other, powering data driven decision making in real time. Businesses that use APIs will thrive, and those that don't will be too slow to keep up.

What exactly is an API?

There are many kinds of APIs and it's not important for non-developers to get bogged down in the technical details. For a business manager, here are the CliffsNotes:

  • An API consists of a set of rules made by an application. An application refers to software and a database
  • If other applications follow these rules, they can pull data from, send data to, and use the functionality of the application
  • These rules are published by app developers in their documentation so other developers can learn the rules for interacting with their application
  • Developers then automate these interactions and allow customers or business tools to work together

Generally, APIs are set up by software makers that want their users to build something that "connects" to their creations.

Can you give me some examples?

There are software products for everything a business does. Here are the ones Intrinio uses to track our own operations:

Each of these companies provides documentation that explains the "rules" for interacting with their data and tools. We wrote code that followed these rules, and now Intrinio can pull business data from each of them.

Intrinio's API allows users to pull financial data they can then analyze or display in an app like a website or Excel. A developer can take that data and display it, multiply it by 2, graph it, put it in a predictive model - anything they can dream up.

Even if you don't personally know how to integrate with an API, knowing what an API can do allows you to do some dreaming of your own. What if you could pull your company's stock price, sales pipeline, support chats, and web traffic and then analyze or display it however you wanted to? That is the power of an API.

How do I use APIs at my business?

Start by talking to your developers and finding out what their capabilities are. Chances are they already know how to work with APIs - it's becoming an entry level skill for most computer programmers. Next, find out which of your business applications have APIs and which don't. Again, the chances are good that at least half of your business tools offer well documented APIs - if they don't, consider changing to a tool that does.

Once you know what your team can do and which of your tools offer APIs, start dreaming. Here are just a few of the ways Intrinio uses APIs:

  • When someone with an email in our sales system chats with support, a link to their sales information is automatically added to the support system
  • We graph web traffic and new sign ups side by side so we can see if increases in web traffic drive increases in sign ups
  • If a customer's credit card is about to expire, we send them a reminder to update their account

Working with APIs can make a business manager's dreams come true. It becomes extremely affordable to integrate across business tools so that tasks can be automated and true business intelligence can drive decision making. Even if you don't program, effective management is powered by a basic understanding of APIs.

Interested in learning more? Check our extensive API documentation.