The term API stands for “application programming interface,” and that basically means software that enables two or more applications to exchange data (messages) with each other.  You can think of an API as a sort of virtual interface, like a touch screen, that you can interact with to enter data, read data, or send/receive data. Web-based APIs can be conveniently accessed via the internet.

What is API Integration?

API integration refers to the system-to-system connection, via APIs, allowing those two systems to exchange data. APIs are designed so you can use a system remotely and connect systems, people, IoT devices, and more. 

Two or more systems that have APIs can interoperate in real-time using those APIs, which saves time, money, and is far more reliable in terms of information currency and data accuracy. 

For example, let us say your company has a TMS (transportation management system) and my company has an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, and these two systems need to exchange data.

In the old days, we might have faxed or emailed this information or discussed it on the phone.  

With API integration, it happens digitally, without human interaction. API integration is what opens a channel that enables our companies to, quite literally, conduct business faster and more accurately. 

In this diagram, you can see a visual representation of API integration with a Netsuite ERP instance connecting to Amazon Marketplace, Shopify, and SAP Ariba: 

 

API Integration Diagram

 

By keeping data in sync in all connected systems, productivity is enhanced, so you can leverage that data to improve efficiency and drive more revenue.  

 4 Way to Use API Integration

From applications and data, all the way to business ecosystems, APIs are quickly becoming a mainstay in most enterprise integration strategies. Here are just four of the countless ways your business can start looking at APIs to facilitate integration.

  • # 1 – APIs for Configuration, Administration, and Monitoring of Products

When someone discusses “headless administration,” this type of API integration is what they are referring to. A “headless” environment is a computer that operates without a monitor, graphical user interface (GUI), or other devices, such as a keyboard or even a mouse.

This type of API allows you to do any type of administration with your cloud that you can do through an administrative GUI. You can run the system “headless” and manage it without having to go to a keyboard and literally touch things. All data management functionality is available today through REST APIs. There are limited capabilities to manage the translation or transformation through APIs, but part of the design of that is that the transformation is headless, so the studio and the runtime are separated. So, in many ways, while there are capabilities, there remain some gaps to fill in as well.

Rather than using the GUI to update your trading partners, AS2 connections, or to manage your certificates, you would use an API to accomplish those tasks. Instead, a clearer way to think about it is to treat the scenario as if it were an administering API that automates several key product tasks, including:

  • Manage
  • Setup
  • Configure

The next steps from here would be to complete the REST APIs for data movement and refine the “headless” strategy for data transformation.

  • #2 – APIs to Upload and Download Files

If you take a look at data movement capabilities, typically you will start with multiple secure communications protocols. These protocols are wide-ranging, used for file-based integration, and include FTP, SFTP, AS2, as well as is often the case, a secure portal for person-to-system file flows. If you want to upload a file, you can use REST APIs to accomplish that, as well as supportive APIs that can be set to programmatically upload and download the files to and from the integration platform. These types of APIs are relevant to how a company can operate within the traditional data movement and support versatile and flexible file-based integration scenarios in their environment.

  • #3 – Using Tools to Connect Other Systems Together Using Their APIs

The third example revolves around the APIs that are provided by other systems, versus those in-house. Some of the most popular examples of core enterprise systems include Salesforce with approximately 20 percent of the global CRM market, and NetSuite, a consistently dominant name in the ERP field, to name a few. In this case, Salesforce and NetSuite present those APIs allowing a company to consume them to do some sort of application-based cloud integration.

  • #4 – Using Cleo Tools to Provide APIs for use by Other Systems

The fourth and final example is actually the other side of the previous example, where an enterprise would use the system’s APIs. Here, the enterprise presents the APIs for others to access. For instance, providing an API to order products. Someone at Salesforce wants someone to be able to access their environment, to be able to do operations using a program through their APIs. So how do they do it?

That’s performed by presenting an API to the world that others outside of the company can call and access. If someone wanted to provide an API to order a product or check their order statement, they could use integration technology to build that API and allow people to call in and try to understand what is happening with their order.

Presenting Vs. Consuming APIs

The important distinction to make between the third and fourth examples is that the third example is calling or consuming an API provided by someone else, while the fourth example is providing an API for other people to call.

Why Do You Need API Integration?

In Cleo’s 2021 State of Ecosystem and Application Integration Report, an annual survey, integration experts across industries called out some of the top integration challenges their companies are facing today.  Here’s a snapshot: 

 

API Challenges

 

API integration using a modern integration platform can help you to address each of these challenges and more. Here’s how: 

Integrating legacy applications 

More than half of companies struggle with integrating legacy applications, a problem that’s only growing more profound as cloud-based applications proliferate. Many businesses have invested heavily in their legacy applications, and they don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, yet they do want access to the cloud.  

Fortunately, with today’s modern integration platforms companies can accelerate seamless end-to-end integrations between their multi-enterprise ecosystem and their internal systems.  Plus, by introducing APIs to complement your EDI onboarding processes, you can automate them and take on new ecosystem trading partners faster. IT Modernization steps like these will upgrade your integration capabilities so you can activate B2B eCommerce more quickly and ensure the success of your business strategy.  

Revenue loss due to integration issues

We all know time is money, and when companies cling to outdated, manual processes they can’t help but fall behind financially in today’s digital economy. 

According to the 2021 survey, 66% of companies are losing up to $500,000 per year due to poor integration, with 10% losing more than $1 million annually. 

Digitalization via API integration helps everything involved with your integrations move faster, and ultimately that means money moves faster too.  

Integrating new applications

With a modern integration platform, your business can unlock any communication protocol whenever you need it, with no additional costs. Such a platform leverages proven pre-configured connectors and templates, allowing you to spin up fast and efficient application integrations. With API integration, for example, the information contained in an important database can be shared with your other internal systems, increasing the value of that data across multiple teams.  Externally, your company could make its APIs available to your customers and partners, so selected, mutually beneficial data can be shared seamlessly and in real-time. 

Poor application and system visibility

Increased visibility into data processes running across your entire ecosystem reduces exposure to risk. Next-generation integration tooling provides real-time visibility via customizable dashboards, and such technologies deliver real-time monitoring and reporting to alert stakeholders of any data challenges with their most important business relationships. With a modern integration platform that accommodates API integration, you know whether your new trading partner relationships are at risk.

All told, API integration is important for logistics companies, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, retailers, and others today because with it, existing applications can be preserved yet opened up to other systems and applications across your entire B2B ecosystem. Doing this speeds up your business's processes, delivering faster application integration and increased visibility across your end-to-end (external and internal) business processes, ultimately driving more revenue, better relationships, and higher performance. 

Additional Benefits of API Integration

As you can see, API integration provides many valuable benefits for your overall business, but diving a bit deeper now, what more can API integration help with?  

We mentioned better relationships above.  And there’s probably nothing more important these days than consistently delivering a customer experience that is commensurate with what your customers and partners expect.  In fact, customer experience precedes revenue in its importance, because only by being easy to do business with can you ensure yourself happy, repeat customers.  They have many alternatives, and loyalty is often fleeting. 

For decades integration has been one of the most complex, specialized, and frustrating tasks in all of IT. APIs help makes integration easy by making connections, data movement, and data transformation easy. By enabling different systems or applications to collaborate and seamlessly share information, all of your business processes become more fluid.  

Further, with today’s plethora of largely pre-built solutions, you can accelerate delivery of custom API integrations and save on development costs -- or enjoy having your developers build applications that are core to your business instead of spending their time building complex API-based integrations themselves.  

Performing tasks manually is cumbersome and time-consuming.  Automation of routine tasks through API integration is a sure-fire way to make your life easier.

Ideally, your automated API integrations should look something like this screenshot from the Cleo Integration Cloud platform. In the interaction below, you can see Shopify eCommerce data on the lefthand side being automatically converted and connected to be ingested into the Netsuite ERP on the righthand side. 

 

Cleo Integration Cloud - API Integration

 

With an API-first approach to cloud integration, you get built-in capabilities to resolve virtually all your integration needs, allowing for application integration that naturally works in conjunction with EDI/B2B integration.  

How Leading Organizations are Accelerating API-based Integrations in 2021

What then is the real value of choosing a modern API-based integration platform?  In kitchen-table-speak, it just makes life easier and better, both for your company and the customers and partners that comprise your business ecosystem.  In tech-speak, it brings you three key capabilities no doubt your integration approach couldn’t benefit from before.  

First, you get the ability to perform API and EDI integration using a single platform, eliminating the need for multiple disparate integration solutions.  Second, it gives you direct control and visibility over your most revenue-critical end-to-end business processes, like Order to Cash, Procure to Pay, or Load Tender to Invoice.  Last, you get a choice of how such a platform would best be deployed in your unique circumstance – do you want a self-service model?  A managed-services approach?  Perhaps a blend of the two is best? 

Cleo Integration Cloud is the only modern integration platform that can accomplish all three. Even better, you can start wherever you are and steadily mature your ecosystem enablement capabilities as your digital transformation initiatives progress.  Plus, if you're using a solution like Cleo Integration Cloud, the API support for both presenting and consuming APIs is built right into the platform so you have everything you need to be able to integrate and use those APIs for your integration, gaining end-to-end visibility as a result.

How Cleo integrates trading partner data via API integration

As the world leader in ecosystem integration technology, Cleo is always listening to its customers and innovating new capabilities to enrich our platform. Cleo Integration Cloud also enables such common, essential API use cases as transforming batch processing to real-time, and provides API equivalency for EDI to deliver more agile interactions with members of your business ecosystem.  

There’s much more to Cleo Integration Cloud than this, of course, and we invite you to learn more.  

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