APIs are everywhere. A lot of industries and functions rely on them to perform their daily duties. Marketing and sales connect to Close.io and MailChimp, engineering departments plug into Parts.io and FindChips, and EBN relies on social media APIs to let you share articles with your personal network without leaving this page.
The API economy is thriving. Last year, Google purchased Apigee (an API management platform) for $625 million. Everyone wants to build one, and there is even an API for Chuck Norris jokes.
But back to the supply chain. APIs have become highly instrumental in the process of digitizing and connecting supply chain operations. Most software vendors and cloud-based applications offer APIs, and while the bandwagon is very crowded, not all of them are worth considering. Let’s figure out how to pick the right ones for your organization.
First, what is an API?
APIs are the base layer for digital transformation. The acronym stands for Application Programming Interface. It serves as an interface between different software programs and facilitates their interactions.
For example, this page uses the Google Maps API to display component distributors on a map.
How to chose an API?
For any specific task, there are many competing APIs that use different approaches or data sources. Here are a few critical questions to ask yourself when picking which one to use:
- Does this API do everything I need it to do? It would be wrong to assume that all similar APIs provide the same calls and processes. For example, the FedEx, UPS and EasyPost APIs are slightly different from one another. Make a list of features that you need and filter your selection based on this list.
- Is it well documented? Always consider a poorly documented API as a big red flag. How comprehensive is the documentation portal? Did you find clear examples to illustrate all of the parameters and functionalities?
- What are the limits? Most APIs come with a limited number of calls you can make per given period of time. You can usually upgrade your subscription to increase the number of API calls allowed. Do competing APIs offer higher limits - or even better, no limits at all? Managing request rates to make sure you are not hitting the API limit can be a real pain.
- Development support. An API provider offering Software Development Kits (SDKs) for the programming language you will use internally is invaluable. It saves considerable amount of time and makes debugging easier. Some providers who do not have SDKs offer example scripts, which are also very helpful. There’s no point reinventing the wheel if you can build on existing templates.
- Customer support. Does your subscription come with premium or dedicated support? When things stop working, having someone on hand that can help is critical. Some vendors also have active communities, forums, and ticketing systems. How long does it typically take them to answer tickets and provide information regarding support requests?
Why should your organization consider APIs over EDI?
APIs, and web-applications in general, are symbols of the necessary transition businesses need to make into the new era of manufacturing. Replacing outdated technology and processes by more efficient tools is no longer a step that can be skipped or postponed. Acronyms, much like components, have a lifecycle. EDI and XML are obsolete. APIs, JSON and SaaS are taking over.
TechCrunch reported that “since 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 have gone bankrupt, merged, been acquired, or fallen off the list for not keeping up with the ever-changing technology landscape.”
Every supply chain is unique. There can’t be an off-the-shelf solution that will solve every company’s problems. But modular building blocks that connect seamlessly together will enable your organization to boost efficiencies, lower maintenance cost, and achieve your digital transformation.
Whether it’s adding connectivity via APIs or replacing parts of the software stack, it’s time for business leaders to make the switch. It’s time to replace legacy tools with open-ended solutions that are designed to make the most of contemporary technology. This industry has historically been reluctant to change, but a risk-averse hierarchy can jeopardize the entire organization.
There are many avenues to explore. The only dead-end is the statu quo.