You’ll have used an API it without knowing it and it’s going to revolutionise your business. As businesses move their functions into the cloud it opens a world of opportunities.
Want to Work a Bit Less for the Same Result?
You may think it’s just for geeks. But it’s not; you don’t need to know how it works to know what you would like it to do. API is a way for different software to pass instructions and data between each other. So, chances are, if you’re using any cloud software or mobile apps you’re using it and don’t know. The key benefit for business is twofold. Firstly, being able to share data mean you can cut double entry of data and the time it consumes. Secondly, it allows you to streamline and automate manual tasks. Leaving your staff more time for more productive things.
We’re going to explain why you need to look at API as a part of your business future.
It’s Easier Than You Think
RESTful API (Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface, if you love an acronym) is quite straightforward. Think of it as a programming language of sorts, but not the way you imagine. Forget screens full of random letters and numbers. It was simpler. In fact, you can use your internet browser, so if you’re feeling adventurous have a go at this example.
Have A Try
Copy and paste this line of text into your browser address bar and replace POSTCODE with your own. Then press enter.
You’ve popped your API cherry by making a request to the Google Maps API which has returned the data it holds about your postcode. The response has come back in a format called JSON. It may be a bit difficult to read, but look closely and you’ll see your address in there somewhere. Give yourself a pat on your back. You’re a programmer 😉
In a nutshell that’s how it works. A request is made by one system onto another, which responds with data in a format that they both can read. Simple. The received data can then be used for something useful.
But How Does That Help?
Let’s think of a simple process; when someone signs up for your service online. They fill out a form on your website and that captures data like name, address, and email. So imagine a sales process like this:
- Complete the website order page
- Add them as a customer on your CRM
- Create a customer on your accounts software and create an invoice
- Add them into your email marketing system
- Engage with them on social media
- Send them a thank-you postcard 🙂
How long would this take? Your customers would love it, especially the card in the post. But how much time would it take and would it worth spending the money? If you think the answer is yes, Just imagine how good it would be if you could set up an API to do it all instantly!
Hand Me the Keyboard! How Do I Get Started?
As we said, that’s not as hard as you’d think, and there are a couple of options to get you started.
Ready Built Integrations
Most cloud software has ready built integrations to cover common situations. We would recommend you look at those right now. Because you may be missing something that will start saving you money and effort right now. For example, our CRM system has an integration that shows key financial information in a customer record page. That information is taken from our accounts software using an API.
When you look at the integrations you may not find the function that serves your idea. So, this is where having the ability to build your own APIs can pay dividends. It opens a huge range of functionality that will match your needs. For that, you need to get building.
For the Tech God
There are API building platforms like www.apigee.com, www.programmableweb.com, or www.mulesoft.com. You’ll need to have some experience and be willing to invest time learning. They’re not that difficult to learn to use, and they all have fantastic resources that will help. But for the amateur, it’s a very steep learning curve that will take quite a considerable amount of time. So, for now, we’ll skip onto something else.
For the Mere Mortal There’s www.zapier.com
This a great place to start and will probably serve all your needs. We use it to care of lots of functions in our business. It amazingly easy to use with great learning resources. Customers build ‘Zaps’ which are workflows of a trigger followed by actions. Once you’re started it quickly becomes second nature. It works with a growing list of over 750 web apps and cloud systems. They’ve also created hundreds of “recipes” to get the novice moving quickly.
So, remember the example? Step 1 would be the trigger that starts the workflow, and steps 2-6 are the actions that automatically follow on using the data from step 1. It will work instantly and reliably 24 hours a day.
We’ll write a bit more about Zapier in coming posts. Plus, hints and tips about how small business can leverage tech to their advantage. Sign up to our mailing list to be sure you don’t miss out.