Every day, you make large and small decisions that impact your business.

At the same time, your computer network makes other decisions that drive your bottom line. Servers have to work 24/7. Cloud applications need to be available at the touch of a button. Remote applications should talk to each other effortlessly. If these items don’t function correctly, you’ll struggle to get your workflow back on track.

A lot of these interactive functions depend on API, or application programming interfaces. Do you understand how APIs work? If not, it’s time to join the revolution. Here’s what you need to know.

Interactive Talk

No matter your business size or type, you depend on computer programs to speak to other computer programs and applications—both internally and externally.

To make that happen, computers need a tool, or API, that allows software to interface with other programs. While APIs are most critical for social media companies like Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook, they also mix with most apps you use in your business or personal life. Think Google Maps (and other Google services you use daily).

If you run a gaming company, your developers probably include a Dropbox API when they want game users to save games in the cloud. If you’re a business apps company, you regularly use APIs to create new services. Put simply, APIs allow interactivity so critical to today’s Web-driven business world.

From a technical standpoint, APIs use web services like XML to help applications communicate over the Web. Each coded XML message matches a given function.

Consider a remote conferencing API. Whenever it sends an XML message, that message interacts with scheduling elements. In turn, these elements may invite others to the conference, reference the start time, and mention the presenter’s name.

In the above scenario, the software developer might include an XML message that builds the scheduling app into the company’s e-mail system. He or she may also reference additional features that help users connect easily when it’s time for the conference.

API Advantages

Each time you install a new server, that server uses its unique address and API token to create interactive functions. Once your IT specialist configures the server, you’re in business.

Depending on the API and its intended use, you can direct traffic (both inbound and outbound) in a way that increases your business’s reach. These are a few ways APIs benefit your IT strategy and—by extension—your business:

  • Target – Extend your business reach with the power of APIs. This is a great way to find new customers.
  • Innovate – Let your employees solve problems more easily with an interactive API that allows them to reference multiple programs and apps.
  • Organize – Save time and business hassles by allowing every employee to use the same IT programs simultaneously.
  • Develop – Create new applications that allow a better user experience for customers.
  • Reach – Allow both external (third-party) APIs and internal (company-wide) APIs for the broadest reach.

API Drawbacks

Occasionally, APIs can create problems for the business user. Think, for example, of what happens when your medical-based business needs to check something on Google Health, only to learn that Google suddenly discontinued the app. What do you do now?

This is a common scenario. Business apps come and go regularly. But if you rely on that particular app, you find yourself scrambling to figure out a new solution. Sooner or later, your IT specialist or CIO has to come up with a new option.

Also, if your business plan involves social media use, you may experience other API problems. For instance, a given social media provider can—with no warning—change or limit its API use for third parties.

Finally, developers can easily design a bad API. All it takes is a small piece of bad code to jumble your entire API configuration. However, coding problems represent just part of the territory, and they can be overcome.

Expert Advice

With so many APIs in the works, companies may feel confused about the right option for their business. Just remember to ask your IT specialists. Not only can they configure your servers, but they’ll also help you find an interactive solution to each business challenge.

Additionally, you can look to other companies who already use APIs expertly. After all, Amazon and Facebook don’t reach millions of users by accident. Let your company IT developers take their cue from the developer page on Amazon, which points the way to other available APIs. Other global companies may feature similar developer pages on their websites.

The next time you take a look at your business assets, consider the ways an API might provide greater access to those products or services. It’s a great method for giving your customers what they need, when they need it. And that’s a business model anyone can get behind.

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