API in the Digital Transformation Context

Aug 24, 2020
5 min read

APIs represent a strategic component of the Digital Transformation. They seem like simple strings of code, but they go beyond the programming language. APIs simplify the dialogue between different applications, allow developers to avoid writing code from scratch, and open new digital services. This is precisely what is required for companies that want to accelerate Digital Transformation and understand the relevance of software in business innovation, especially in projects based on Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and IoT (Internet of Things).

To understand how and why APIs play a strategic role in supporting digital transformation, we can look at the more than 14 thousand public APIs used by various services and software. In addition to Facebook, the best-known APIs are those provided by Twitter, Google, eBay, or Amazon. For example, Google Maps is open to the developer's community to build customized maps, integrate them into websites and offer geo-referenced search services, or even use them in mobile apps.

The API economy is the result of open-source projects and the increasingly comprehensive approach to open innovation. With API, companies can bring the change available to the market into their structure to enable and provide better services. Finally, the programming interface is becoming much more of an application(transition from the App Economy towards the API Economy) and will accelerate the migration to more flexible systems.

What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface, and it is defined as a system of tools and resources in an operating system enabling developers to create software applications. More generally, it can be considered as a set of functions that allow you to access the services of an application through a programming language. But these functions can be different: API can be a library that enables a developer to interact with a specific software or platform. Otherwise, it can act as a "call" from a program towards parts of another application. API enables communication between applications or software, and it's a flexible and efficient tool for both data exchange and functionality sharing. They reduce development time and cost as well as mitigate the risk of errors.

An example comes from a Web API for either web server or web browser. When you navigate on a website in your browser, like "Twitter.com," a request for data goes out to Twitter's remote server. Once your browser receives the data and processes the code response, the browser displays Twitter. In this case, Twitter's server is the API that enabled communication and allowed you to access the web page.

There are several types of APIs.

Private APIs are published internally for use by the company's developers only to improve a company's products and services. Public APIs are published publicly and can be used by any third party partner. Partners APIs are used within business relationships, often to integrate software between partners and companies.

API usually uses JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) as the primary language. JSON is an open-source JavaScript library of methods designed to extract and manipulate data stored in HTML documents, in this way, APIs can aggregate data and complete processes over totally disparate systems.

In this daily networking ecosystem, APIs can generate added value. It requires an API strategy based on operational efficiency and productivity, innovation and cooperation, revenue generation, and new business models.

What Features are Essentials to Make a Good API?

A good API should allow us to search for data by specific criteria and detect changes in data by particular timestamps. Moreover, it should be able to practice paging and sorting. Paging means limiting the amount of data that can be received at one time and the frequency of requests for data. Sorting allows data to be ordered according to the time of modification. The use of REST API (Representational State Transfer) as a software architecture for a Web API is suggested because it supports many data formats such as TXT, CSV, XML, and JSON. Unlike granting access to the framework by an API key, it is a better choice to an Open Authorization framework (OAuth). It enables an end user's account information to be used by third-party services, such as Facebook and Google, without exposing the user's account credentials to the third party. Further strategic value is to provide reliable documentation because it is one of the elements that discounts project implementation time, and hence, costs for the project. Moreover, proper documentation adds to the popularity of an API.

What about APIs' History?

In the past, APIs were mostly relegated to software developers looking to fix interface and data sharing issues linked within compatible software solutions. The advent of APIs dates back to the dawn of the IT age, well before personal computers. At the time, an API was typically used as a library for an operating system. After about 30 years, APIs have emerged from their local environments, and in the early 2000s, they have become an important technology for remote data integration.

Deep Dive into Success Histories.

In 2000, the eBay API was rolled out. The API purpose was to standardize how applications integrated with eBay, and make it easier for partners and developers to build a business around the eBay ecosystem.

In 2006, the social network Twitter platform introduced its TwitterAPI. Much like the release of the eBay API, Twitter's API release was in response to the growing usage of Twitter by those scraping the site or creating rogue APIs. Twitter exposed the Twitter API via a REST interface using JSON and XML. In some years, Twitter's API has become the center of many desktop clients, mobile applications, web apps, even by Twitter itself. In August 2006, Amazon EC2 or Elastic Compute Cloud, a new cloud computing service, was launched. After some months, the cloud storage service Amazon S3 was launched. Amazon EC2 provides computational capacity in the cloud by allowing developers to launch different sizes of virtual servers within Amazon data centers. Using the Amazon EC2 API, developers can launch small, large, and extra-large servers and pay for every hour that the server is running. Amazon EC2, combined with AmazonS3, has built a platform for the next generation of computing with APIs at the core.

Where can APIs be exploited?

Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are the areas where APIs can be exploited. Examples come from chatbots as a link between these conversational agents and websites or customer care services. APIs are rethinking the cloud services market through Machine Learning and Deep Learning for facial recognition, document classification, voice and text recognition, sentiment analysis, and predictive modeling. IoT APIs are another example of an intersection between devices and internet networks or other applications connected with the network.

If properly managed, APIs provide a critical "innovation pool" of digital resources; they can become relevant tools to improve the user experience. Although APIs are born as a technical tool, they take on a crucial role in the Digital Transformation context as a strategic driver of business and innovation, allowing companies to rethink their corporate assets.

Happy Digital Transformation with APIs world.