The Importance of APIs
Businesses of all sizes are increasingly relying on APIs to connect with their customers, partners, and other systems. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are the building blocks of the modern web, and they allow businesses to share data and functionality in a secure and efficient way.
Without APIs, businesses are limited in their ability to innovate and grow. They lack the ability to integrate with other systems, create new products and services, or reach new markets. They are at a competitive disadvantage.
Companies who know how to implement APIs properly “can cut costs, improve efficiency, and help the bottom line.”
In 2023, APIs are more important than ever before. The digital economy is growing rapidly, and businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to the latest trends and technologies. APIs provide the flexibility and agility that businesses need to succeed in the modern world.
Even several years ago, it was acknowledged that APIs had “become the fabric of connectivity by enabling the digital transformation.”
Many Facets of Growing a Business
There’s naturally much more to business than just APIs. Like layering security to better ensure data defense, so a business involves more areas of expertise than just security, such as having a clear vision and strategy, performing market research, gaining customer understanding, developing an effective marketing and sales strategy, keeping a close eye on financial management and investment, and deploying a scalable infrastructure.
This latter area – scalable infrastructure - is where APIs fit. As business grows, it is crucial to have scalable infrastructure in place to support increased demand. Infra includes hardy systems, efficient processes, and adequate resources such as technology, equipment, and skilled staff. Scaling up without proper infrastructure will lead to inefficiencies, customer dissatisfaction, and operational challenges. A major part of the whole infra conversation is how the API types – public, private, and partner – will be evaluated, implemented, maintained, and eventually upgraded or changed out.
But why all the fuss about APIs? Aren’t they just fancy versions of an internet connection?
Why Include APIs as part of the Business strategy?
APIs go beyond simple internet connections, allowing for faster testing and administration internally, and quicker deployment and innovation externally. Here are some more specific ways that APIs can contribute to creating a scalable and efficient business infrastructure:
Integration and Connectivity
APIs enable different software applications, systems, or platforms to communicate and share data seamlessly. By integrating various tools and systems through APIs, you can streamline processes, improve efficiency, and eliminate manual tasks. This integration capability becomes necessary as a business grows, allowing one to connect different components of the infrastructure, such as CRM, ERP, and inventory management.
APIs allow the adoption of a modular architecture for the infrastructure. Instead of building everything from scratch, one can leverage existing APIs to integrate pre-built functionalities into your systems. This modularity provides flexibility to add or remove components as needed, allowing the infrastructure to scale easily and adapt to changing business requirements.
APIs facilitate collaboration with external partners, such as suppliers, vendors, or third-party service providers. By exposing specific APIs, businesses can securely share data or functionality with trusted partners, enabling seamless interactions and improving supply chain management or service delivery. This collaboration helps expand business capabilities without investing in additional resources or infrastructure.
APIs allow the creation of a developer ecosystem around the business. Offering APIs to external developers encourages them to build applications, services, or integrations on top of the infrastructure. This expands business reach, attracts innovative solutions, and enables a business to grow through the contributions of developers and partners.
Scalable Service Offerings
By exposing APIs for specific functionalities or data, customers have the ability to integrate their own systems or develop custom applications that leverage business services. This expands value proposition and opens up new revenue streams, all while allowing customers to tailor the offerings to their specific needs.
Technology leads to troubles
The use of any technology contains risks and poses threats, especially if the technology is new to a company’s tech stack.
In a recent study, "…31% had experienced a sensitive data exposure or privacy incident and 17% had experienced a security breach; such events have significant costs and reputational damage associated with them."
Growing a business is an adventure, and part of that adventure is taking risks. And taking risks in business involves risk management. APIs are one of the many areas for assessing and managing risk – APIs present a vastly increased opportunity for business growth but also create security and privacy risks that have to be addressed for the API to be a viable long-term growth strategy.
APIs are intended to be used heavily and are often implemented quickly. The drive to be first-to-market can create not only a security and privacy risk but a reputational risk for companies who after a breach or leak can be seen as sloppy or lazy in their promise of safe online transactions.
A potential quick win for API security and API development teams is following the guidance in the OWASP API Security Top Ten project. There are more than ten threats, of course, but it’s a solid place to start.
What does it look like in real life?
Here are some examples of successful businesses that have used APIs to grow:
Twilio and Salesforce
Twilio is a cloud communications platform that provides APIs for voice, messaging, and video. Salesforce is a customer relationship management (CRM) platform that provides APIs for developers to build applications that integrate with Salesforce's platform.
Algolia is an AI search and discovery platform (search-as-a-service) that provides APIs for developers to build search functionality into their applications (two examples are HackerNews and Lacoste). By offering APIs, Algolia has been able to attract developers and businesses looking for an uncomplicated way to add search functionality to their applications.
Stripe uses APIs to allow businesses to accept payments online and integrate payments into their websites and applications. This API has helped Stripe become one of the most popular payment processors in the world.
Everybody gets APIs!
Do not overlook the need to guard your customers’ data in the rush to improve and innovate. While many may not be concerned about their security and privacy, there are many who are uneasy about how companies collect and protect their personal information.
Take the high road with APIs – provide and protect.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.