APIs are a way for applications to network. With an API, one company is saying to another “shall we collaborate?” to establish a symbiotic relationship between them and, by extension, their customers, which fosters innovation and productivity.

Source: Nordic APIS

The so-called digital economy requires a culture that fosters organisational agility, enabling companies to respond quickly and flexibly to the fast and changing pace of demand and, as a consequence, a culture of collaboration, which requires the need to be connected to others. Also with those we have hitherto regarded as competitors.

In this context, it is inevitable to look at APIs as the master key that opens the doors to application networking and, therefore, to the automation of certain tasks.


API:

An API is nothing more than an application programming interface. In other words, a communication area or “action” from one system to another. For this purpose, a set of tools, definitions and protocols are used to integrate the services and application software of the participating systems, so that we avoid having to carry out ad hoc programming for each system that we intend to connect.

Thus, the purpose of APIs is the integration or connection of data, applications and devices within the company itself or with others, so that all technologies can communicate and work better together. If technologies cannot communicate with each other or with other technologies, they represent a burden, if not a cost overhead.

An example of API use would be a price comparison website for a certain service. Let’s imagine that we want to book a flight. All you have to do is access the comparison website, enter the city of origin, the city of destination, the dates you want to travel and the number of passengers. The comparison site will access, through the API of each airline, their database and will show us in an attractive way, the results obtained for each airline.

Does the comparison website know how each airline stores its data? No. It has simply told the API what it wants and the API has done the work to get the information. This seemingly simple thing requires documentation to be available to users describing the technical details involved in its use, including how to access it and the operations necessary to interact with the API. This documentation constitutes an agreement between the parties, i.e. a kind of contract that specifies which operations are available and what is to be obtained in response to invoking them.

«An API is the ideal access mechanism for publishing data with a high update frequency such as real-time or dynamic data.»

Design of APIs: SOAP, RESTful and GRAPHQL

There are two main initiatives that have made it possible to design APIs and optimise their implementation, although a third has recently been gaining momentum. These are the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Representational State Transfer (REST), which have been joined by API GraphQL.

The SOAP protocol makes it possible to standardise message formats and requests. It is a protocol specification that facilitates communication between applications in different environments or written in different programming languages.

On the other hand, REST is an architectural style based on six guiding principles, which are easier to follow than a pre-defined protocol, which is why RESTful APIs are becoming more prevalent than SOAP.

A RESTful API can be implemented using any programming language: Java, .NET, Python, PHP, Ruby or Node.js, amongst others. Its power is provided by the use of open standards such as HTTP/HTTPS, whose use as an access method and URLs to uniquely identify data resources individually provide a fundamental separation between data requests and responses, achieving more efficient service and application implementations.

API GraphQL is a query language for APIs and a runtime for completing those queries. REST and GraphQL are similar in the sense that they identify resources as URLs through which the application can obtain data or functions, but from there, there are many differences that you can consult, for example, in this Google guide.

APIs, the key to agile integration in the cloud

Increasingly, companies are adopting the cloud computing approach in a way that allows them to increase the scalability of applications as well as their availability. To realise these benefits requires a new approach to application programming, the so-called cloud native app approach, in which API-driven communication is essential.

Redhat perfectly synthesises the four principles of cloud-native application development and deployment:

  • 1
    Modular architecture based on microservices, for example, will avoid the need for direct connection.
  • 2
    API-driven communication only allows communication via service interface calls over the network, which avoids the risks of direct connection, shared memory models or direct reads from a data store of another device. This design extends the scope of applications and services to different devices and modalities.
  • 3
    La iContainer-based infrastructure provides a common operating model across multiple technology environments and true application portability across different environments (public, private and hybrid). Container technology uses operating system virtualisation capabilities to divide available computing resources among multiple applications, while ensuring that applications are secure and isolated from each other.
  • 4

    DEVOPS processes whose agile methods enable continuous and collaborative delivery by development, quality assurance, security, IT operations and other teams involved in the delivery.

Architecture

Service-based

Communication

API-driven

Infrastructure

Containers

Process

DEVOPS

Source: RedHat.

«he API economy is an enabler to turn a company or an organisation into a platform»

Kristin R. Moyer (Gartner)

«Digital transformation is about an organisation’s ability to package its services, skills and assets into modular pieces of software that can be leveraged repeatedly.»

State of API Economy 2021 Report

The secret to getting the most value from the data we have is to free it from silos and make it interoperable and reusable in different contexts, including by combining it with valuable assets from partners and other third parties.

APIs enable these synergies by allowing developers to access and combine digital assets in different systems, even if these systems were never intended to interoperate. When developed to be easily reusable, APIs allow developers to modularly combine and recombine functionality and data for new uses at virtually no marginal cost for each additional use of the API.

Since there is no additional cost for API calls, the more API calls you receive, the more value you create for all participants, so that more and more synergies are created between each other.

Thus, the aforementioned State of API Economy 2021 Report concludes that, based on their research, IT decision-makers find the following benefits of APIs:

Opinions on APIs
56%

APIs help us create better digital products and experiences

52%

APIs accelerate innovation by exposing assets with partners

40%

APIs are a way to achieve system integration

36%

APIs are strategic assets for creating business value

22%

APIs are products that are directly exploitable by external customers.

However, as the research evidence attests, integration remains an important API use case, but it can also be limiting if it is perceived as the sole value proposition of the API. Making two systems interoperate is not inherently valuable; what is valuable is what this integration enables in terms of business outcomes, and whether it can be replicated, iterated and managed as business needs change.

Organisations that increase SaaS (software as a service) deployment are more likely than their peers to have strong API programme maturity.

While companies at all levels of API maturity are likely to focus on accelerating new application development and connecting internal applications, respondents with high maturity will be more likely to focus on developing a developer ecosystem or B2B partner programme around their APIs.

Low maturity
Medium maturity
High maturity
51%
54%
66%

Accelerates the development of new applications

51%
47%
60%

Connects internal applications

38%
38%
61%

Creates a developer ecosystem

21%
30%
37%

Develops a B2B partner programme

16%
10%
9%

Monetising APIs as a new source of revenue

The trend towards increased collaboration in all areas, which is being accelerated by the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, as well as by the synergies generated between APIs and codeless development platforms, makes connectivity and the use of APIs an essential element in any company’s strategy.