You’ve probably heard about API integration and how it can make work more efficient by taking on the repetitive, daily tasks associated with managing your business. While API (known as an application programming interface) can drive efficiencies and make work more productive, it’s not a must-have for every business. Here we’ll discuss when it’s a good fit, and provide some insight on how to get started. But first, let’s get into what an API is and how it works.
What’s an API? It’s computer code that allows two software platforms to communicate with each other to perform specific actions. Think of it as a virtual bridge: You put information into your system, and the API shares it with another system’s API to get the task you want completed. Need some real-life examples? It’s the technology that makes it possible to create a Shopify store, book a hotel room on a travel site and download software. Essentially, it’s API that powers virtually everything we do online.
So how can API work for your business? For a practical example, let’s look at our API at Scalable Press. We designed ours to keep the flow of information going until it completes an order. And we do this by integrating with suppliers, so when an order is placed on our site, the products are sent to us for decoration and fulfillment. This makes ordering a seamless process and means you only work with one vendor.
Our API also works with enterprise (ERP) software and company web stores. When it’s with an ERP, the order information you put into your system flows into ours to generate an order. So, it goes from being a work order to a transaction, with the data having only been entered once. This not only saves time, but it frees up resources so you or your team can focus on higher value tasks to grow your business.
The same order flow process and hands-off approach applies to company web stores. However, it comes with the added benefit of being able to do one-offs or bulk orders, depending on what your customers need, thanks to our ability to print on demand.
When integration makes sense…and when it doesn’t
While integration is a powerful tool, and one that clearly underpins what we do, it’s not a solution we recommend for every business. Integrations take time — depending upon the scope of the project, they can take several months. They’re also very expensive and require the expertise of one or several savvy developers to get the two APIs to understand each other and work properly. And that’s just in the early stages of implementation. There are other costs, such as employing technical support to troubleshoot and fix any bugs after the integration has launched, that have to be factored into the expense as well.
And it’s for these reasons that we recommend anyone who’s considering an integration — with us or any partner — to first do a cost-benefit analysis. After doing so, if you find your business has a clear path for growth or significant potential for it (e.g., robust program business or daily orders from a company web store), doing an integration is usually well worth the investment. However, if you have smaller opportunities with limited growth potential, doing an integration generally isn’t worth the investment and we don’t recommend it.
How to get started
If you find an integration makes sense for your business, the first thing you’ll want to do is find a reputable integration partner who understands and respects the investment you’re about to put forth. Once you’ve secured your partner, you’ll want to prepare for the integration process itself. Here are a few best practices to guide you through the pre- and post-launch:
- Start with a savvy developer or developers: APIs can come in a variety of different languages and have different rules and endpoints, so you’ll want to hire an experienced developer or developers. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it can’t be emphasized enough.
- Make sure the two APIs are compatible: An API is always documented, so you’ll want to get your development team together with the development team of the API in which you’re connecting to compare documents. By doing so, you’ll know if your API can speak to the other API, or what needs to be done to make that happen to build out an effective integration.
- Test well before the launch: Like any technology, an integration can have glitches. So allow yourself plenty of time to test the API, find the bugs and fix them before you go live. And do your integration in a staging environment to minimize any threat of business interruption.
- Launch, but don’t fly solo: As mentioned early, technology can be glitchy. Make sure your developer team is available to provide support in the event that something goes awry and needs to be fixed.
A few closing thoughts
Integration is clearly an involved process, but for the right business opportunity, it can be a real game changer — even a growth driver. But you don’t want to go into integration without a strong indication that it will be worth the time and money required to invest in one. Going in without a clear path for growth could be a costly mistake you can’t afford to make.
Scalable Press is focused on reinventing the mass customization industry with technology. Learn more about how our API can help grow your business.