What is an API – and could your company benefit from API-based technology?
Generally speaking, companies can be divided into two camps: people in technical roles who have heard of APIs, and people in operational roles, who often haven’t. However, knowing more about your technology will help you to find solutions that can run your maintenance and facility management operations more efficiently.
Around 96% of developers use APIs. But those developers aren’t always involved in shortlisting new software. By understanding more about how APIs can help improve the effectiveness of key operational technologies, you can avoid missing a trick – and invest in API-friendly solutions that enable your teams to communicate and collaborate.
What is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. It’s a piece of software that allows two different systems to communicate with each other – like a messenger. Or a waiter in a restaurant, taking your order and then bringing back a meal that the chef has prepared.
Even if you’ve not heard of an API, you’ve probably encountered one. It’s what Skyscanner uses to search for flights – interconnecting and consolidating the data from the systems of multiple airlines – and how your favourite websites embed maps and live chat boxes.
How do APIs work?
Think about the different technologies you use during an average day at work. Individually, each technology is great – but they become even more useful when they work together seamlessly. And this seamless interconnectivity allows you to consolidate your data into an auditable centralised repository – whether that is your ERP or your CMMS software.
APIs allow your business technologies to work together without merging solutions – allowing you to select the best tool for the job. Data flows between the solutions without dictating complex and expensive changes in their existing architecture or workflows.
Each API has a set of definitions and protocols. When one application (known as the client or requester) asks another application (known as the server) to do something (known as a resource), the API will communicate this request. This process is known as an API call.
If the server is able to complete this request, the API will retrieve the relevant information. If it can’t, the API will send an error message to the requesting application.
There are four basic calls all APIs can carry out:
- Get: retrieve data from the server and bring it back to the client
- Post: create a new action or resource on the server
- Put: edit/update existing data on the server
- Delete: remove information from the server
To make sure these calls can be carried out securely – protecting companies from the threat of cybercrime – APIs use a unique code to validate the client making a request. This code is called an API key Using API keys means only approved users can access resources and make changes.
What are the benefits of APIs?
There are many reasons that companies choose to use API-based technologies:
- Single source of truth: APIs help data to flow freely across your company, connecting and strengthening your operations. You can choose which technology is your primary source of data – for example, some companies use their ERP software to purchase spare parts, whereas others use CMMS software such as ShireSystem for all purchasing decisions.
- Universal visibility: Everyone can see the same information at the same time, and use that information to make important organisational or operational decisions.
- Simplicity: easier integrations = less stress for your IT department! It means you can integrate software without big changes in workflows, big project timelines and/or building a big in-house technical team.
- Secured access: API keys make sure that the connections between your solutions are controlled by you and can only be used by your approved people. We’ll talk more about access in a moment.
- Scalability: APIs allow you to add more software as you grow and/or your needs change. You can select new technologies for your company and share information easily and effectively.
- Easier innovation: APIs are a quick, low-risk way to connect new software and services to your company network. By using sandbox trials, you can add new functions and test ideas without interrupting the technologies you’re already using.
Faster change: the simplicity of APIs means you can connect software and services quickly, so you’re always ready to embrace the next business change.
Are there different types of API?
Earlier, we mentioned the advantage of controlling access to APIs. However, there are advantages to allowing external development by systems integrators or independent software vendors (ISVs) to connect your infrastructure.
There are several different types of API that you can use, which are provided by vendors like Elecosoft, and can be accessed in different ways. They include:
Internal APIs: these APIs are hidden from public view and are only used within your company to share data and connect solutions.
Open APIs: these APIs are publicly available and can be used with minimal restrictions. Any developer can use them to integrate data and services to/from your company.
Partner APIs: these APIs connect third-party software to your business.
Most APIs use REST architecture, regardless of whether they’re public or private. REST is short for REpresentational State Transfer.
REST APIs take a request from a client and return data from the server in a pre-defined pattern. This simplifies the process of transferring information between solutions – and it is normally bi-directional.
What are some popular API use cases?
We’ve already noted how companies use APIs to pull through data from other sources onto their website, like embedding Google Maps. This is just one example of API technology in action. APIs can embed other information from external sources such as social media feeds, or integrate data behind the scenes, like Google Analytics.
However, the main focus of this article is to highlight how APIs can be used to link internal systems. For example, the ShireSystem maintenance and facilities management service can be connected with operational technologies to make maintenance updates available to your entire company. It can be used to pull or push data from ShireSystem to other software that you are using, such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics, and even analytics software such as Power BI.
Does ShireSystem use API technology?
Yes – as we’ve just mentioned, ShireSystem can be integrated with third-party applications using API technology. This integration will allow you to incorporate facilities management and maintenance data within your wider operational workflows and processes. For example, consolidating your views on stock levels across your company, or avoiding duplication of purchasing data.
The ShireSystem API uses a REST architecture with a fully secured gateway. We’ve taken this approach to allow system communication without compromising your company data.
Our API provides calls to and from ShireSystem, with fully documented examples available via Swagger to help you design workflows and data maps.
Learn more about the ShireSystem API.
How do I integrate ShireSystem with my other software using an API?
Book your ShireSystem demo to find out how our CAFM/CMMS service works and how it can integrate with your other operational technologies.