Introducing new services and products for your business with APIs

The API (Application Program Interface) has become the cornerstone of many businesses. Offering the ability to connect devices together to exploit data and other services, many small businesses are now basing their products on APIs that deliver features at relatively low cost.

Apps are of course where APIs have found the most use. Many of the most popular apps use APIs as a core component of their functionality. Mapping apps, taxi services, document storage and connecting online services together all use APIs.

It’s the small business community where APIs can be the most beneficial. Every industry moves through change and it’s important for every business to remain relevant to its customers whether these are in the consumer space, or within a B2B environment. APIs can deliver a cost-effective way to remain on the cutting-edge of your business sector.

Visa, Apigee, says in its whitepaper: “APIs have become more important as businesses shift their attention from what they need to provide to consumers to how to deliver more value to consumers faster and at scale. In addition to this accelerated time to value, businesses are striving for improved agility and the ability to leverage new channels and extend their brand.”

Of course this is most relevant to businesses in the digital economy using APIs to create new products or extend existing services. For these companies the API economy is an ecosystem that enables them to innovate.

3scale explained in its eBook: “Such organisations can also develop software applications to access APIs to create new functionality and value both for themselves and the wider world. The resulting economy enables many new classes of applications with the potential to transform the way business is done. Think of it as maximising your growth potential in what is likely to become the most important component of the economy.”

How Spotify works with an API (Image Credit: 3scale)

Connected consumers

APIs offer even the smallest of enterprises the chance to enhance and expand the depth of their services to a waiting public.

The use of APIs may have begun to enhance web services, but today it’s mobile where APIs are making themselves felt. The level of connectedness that consumers now expect is driving the use of APIs. And this isn’t just for the likes of Google or Facebook.

“For a small business owner, APIs offer the chance to react, scale and pivot at any stage of your business growth,” Phil Leggetter, head of developer Relations at Nexmo told techradar pro.

He continued: “Small business owners can benefit from APIs through real-time information exchanges and software integrations. APIs can also streamline workflow by saving time, automating processes and scaling data operations.

Clearly using APIs in your business can massively accelerate the development process for new products or services. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the API strategy your business is developing has sound foundations and includes high levels of security provisions, as many businesses often don’t pay enough attention to latter aspect of their design.

“It could be the case that APIs are considered by businesses as too technically niche and complex to integrate at least without the assistance of hiring specialist programmers. But the smartest of companies will understand that APIs can also be used as a strategic business tool.”


Your API strategy

Using APIs in your business offers a number of advantages including the following:

1. Personalise content

Your business needs to stand out from the crowd. One way to achieve this is to personalise your communications. Targeted emails and enhanced buyer histories can help your business present customers with other goods or services they might like based on their past purchases.

2. Enhance an existing service or product

An API can help your products or services become more feature-rich. Mapping APIs could be used. APIs to connect e-commerce systems to databases that have rich product information are good examples here.

3. Connect to social media

One of the great advantages of using an API in this context is that it can connect your web-based business to social media feeds. You can show the number of likes, or tweets, using an API.

4. Streamline business processes

APIs don’t have to be customer-facing. Your business could use APIs to improve its internal systems. Automatically adding new website visitors to an email mailing list, and using APIs to make shipment processing fast and seamless, are both good examples of powerful uses of APIs.

5. Expand your business

Amazon has shown that using affiliates can be a lucrative way to expand a sales force. Affiliate marketing can be handled by an API such as a widget you can include on your website. Using APIs in this way is as simple as cutting and pasting some code.

Amazon’s API creates a complete ecosystem any business can take advantage of (Image Credit: 3scale)

Update risks

Smaller enterprises that are basing large sections of their products or services on APIs need to be aware that they may have to update their products or services at regular intervals. API providers have a habit of making changes, which could break your business’ web services for instance, so stay vigilant when developing your business around specific APIs.

Madeline Parra, CEO and co-founder of Twizoo, warns: “If you are using an API and that source or feature is a critical part of your business, you need to consider what the risks would be if that service should cease to exist, or no longer be available to you.

“A lot of APIs are priced on a ‘per call’ basis, so as you increase use so does the cost. You need to ensure that you can scale that reliance in a sustainable way as your business grows.”

Antony Chesworth, CEO and founder of EKM

Develop your own API?

All the largest and most successful companies are a platform… think Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. They all allow other third-parties to build on top of what they offer which adds value to their users.”

One question that many businesses ask is whether they should create their own API. In response, Antony Chesworth, CEO and founder of commented: “If you want your business to become a platform, then yes.

“Obviously it depends on your business but even in the most non-techy businesses you could see how becoming a platform could expand the business. For example, take a greengrocer. If they built an API which allowed you to order fruit and veg, developers from around the world could integrate that into their apps and websites.

“Or using a fitness app which tracks what you are eating it could flash up a warning saying you haven’t eaten much fruit this week, and click here to get a banana, which would then use the greengrocer’s API to place the order and have it sent to the customer. Okay, it’s a random example but it works!”

There is no denying that many of the most popular web and mobile services simply would not exist without APIs.

“The current trends in API-centric application development provide us with hints as to what the future may hold for small businesses,” concluded Orion Cassetto, director of product marketing, Distil Networks. “The future will likely see more and more businesses turning to APIs to power their web and mobile applications, and to license content necessary to build out their businesses models.”

Using APIs is now commonplace with many businesses leveraging their power and flexibility. For the small business community exploiting APIs offers an opportunity to build businesses on systems that can be connected together to create something new and engaging.

  • When crafting your API strategy, put design first

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