Over the last several years we have witnessed increasing corporate adoption of the Internet. Following that same time frame has been another interesting phenomenon – the expansion of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Companies large and small are opening up public services to enable consumption by 3rd party software. It is getting to a point where almost any integration is possible!
What is an API?
An API is the way in which a software vendor (e.g. Microsoft) or Web service (e.g. Google) opens up functionality and data for use by external developers. They do not usually allow complete access to the software, but instead provide strategic entry points for certain features. Sometimes free, sometimes license-based, APIs can be leveraged to mine data or automate manual processes.
CRM: SAP, Salesforce.com, HighRise
Document Management: M-Files, Kofax, Microsoft SharePoint
Online Platforms: Amazon, Google, Bing
Services: Paypal, FedEx, AWeber
Installed Software: Microsoft Office, AutoCAD, Adobe PhotoShop
Social: FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter
Employees within a corporate sales team have compiled standard steps to take when identifying a new prospect. They enter contact information into SalesForce.com and then save any appropriate documents (while retyping all the same contact information) into SharePoint. The employees then follow internal guidelines to perform a series of manual processes.
Because both SharePoint and SalesForce.com have APIs, many of the above steps can be removed. It is possible, for example, to create software with a single interface to enter contact information. The software could then push that contact information into both systems and continue to automatically process the previously manual steps based on custom rules. Furthermore, data stored within these systems can be extracted and mined for reporting and analysis.
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Many of the software packages and online services that companies use already have an API (or will be releasing one soon). Avoid the investment of implementing an entirely new solution and leverage what is already there. Try to think of ways that different systems can integrate together or can be automated. Chances are, with the growing accessibility of APIs, that even the most creative ideas can be implemented.