James Whitebread

In his latest tech-focus blog, Masstech CTO/CDO James Whitebread takes a look at APIs, how they are implemented, and what they can do for vendors and customers.

B2B or D2C – whatever the environment or business area, when selecting a platform we commonly find ourselves asking “Does it have an API?” APIs form a part of almost all software platform conversations these days, but what is an API? What does it do? And why is it important?

What is an API?

Essentially an Application Programming Interface, to give the API its full name, is an interface into a piece of software. The API allows another piece of software to talk directly to it programatically, and to send requests for the software to carry our actions, or deliver information etc. It avoids the need to use a command line or graphical interface as a separate process when one piece of software wants another one to do something for it. 

How can an API help?

The most common application is to allow your own software to integrate with another piece of software to do the things that your software wasn’t designed to do. For example, you might build your own media tools platform, which can then communicate via an API with an underlying storage management platform. This extends its features beyond the scope of the original toolset as designed by its creator.

Why/What is a REST API?

A REST API has a number of advantages over what can be considered its predecessor SOAP. It is arguably more simple to design and build out a REST API.  Here’s a good explanation of the differences from stackify.com

What can you do with an API?

APIs allow you to create seamless operations between your own business systems, or to create an interconnected ecosystem of business systems – both customer or supplier – that can provide optimisation and efficiency to otherwise more separate business processes.

Real world API usage examples

Usage analytics:  It’s common for services to offer APIs for accessing service logs and availability data. For example, many business now utilise platform APIs such as those from Facebook (http://facebook.com) to collect data and ingest, for example into a data warehouse where that data can be analysed for business performance.

Data connectivity: Zapier (http://zapier.com/) and Zoho Flow (https://www.zoho.com/flow/) are two great examples of tools from a new breed of services aimed at helping to automatically collect information from one API and pass data or trigger events utilising a software’s API. This provides relatively seamless integration between disparate systems, and often these tools are so user friendly that they require little or no development background to implement the communications.

Frontend apps and sites: APIs provided a structured method for frontend mobile apps, desktop apps and web apps to access backend services and data. This allows developers to create simplified, mobile-friendly front ends for systems, which talk to the back-end via API to provide information or implement activities.

Be an open platform that allows innovation

These days extensibility is becoming a popular thing! And with good reason. Allowing others to integrate into and extend the functionality of a vendor’s platform is beneficial for all parties. It allows a user to push data into a collection of connected platforms, mine data from them, and to link tools and systems together, without having to access each platform via its own interface. The possibilities are almost limitless. 

Allow customer to create and extend platforms and operations

Masstech’s Kumulate is a video content management platform that includes a REST API that we have spent many months perfecting to allow the greatest possible communication between our own modules, and between the Kumulate core platform and services provided by 3rd parties.  This allows our customers to create the platforms and workflows that they require absolutely seamlessly, and to be able to switch out and deploy workflow components at the touch of a mouse button.

If you have an existing MAM or other control system that uses REST or even SOAP based APIs, and you want to integrate archive or other media management services, please do get in touch. Kumulate and other Masstech solutions have been integrated and deployed with dozens of other systems and platforms, and we’d love to help you with yours.

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