What exactly is an API?
For those of us outside the world of programming, the term “API” may seem like an arbitrary acronym that your IT department likes to throw around. However, APIs are what make modern technology work. They are the tool that allows your software to talk to one another and exchange information.
Like the handy waiter that communicates between your table and the kitchen, you tell an API what you want, and they’ll bring it out to you, prepared in the exact form that you’ve requested.
Not All APIs Are Created Equal
For modern manufacturers, a good API is incredibly important. If APIs are waiters, then a good API is the service you receive at a 5 star restaurant; prompt, accurate, and reliable. ERP systems and other digital manufacturing tools have become vital to modern business. That said, not all APIs are equal.
Making sure that your API is flexible and user-friendly are important factors to evaluate when considering a new software solution.
Knowing What to Look For
What does a good API look like? At the end of the day, you want an API that will allow you to easily integrate with your existing ERP, PLM, or any other software system.
Luckily, there are a few simple things you can look out for that don’t require a breadth of technical knowledge to understand.
Asking these simple questions will ensure that your software can exchange information well and that your IT colleagues will be happy.
Is there good documentation for the API?
Without the proper documentation, an API is completely useless. The documentation surrounding an API will tell your technical colleagues why the data sets are important and how to access them.
Much like the menu provided when you first sit down for a meal, you’ll want to find out if information and instructions surrounding the API have been recorded in an easily accessible format. If no such documentation exists, it’s likely that system integrations will be a challenging and time-consuming process, requiring lots of back-and-forth communication with programmers and your IT department.
Is it a RESTful API?
A RESTful API is a way of developing the API that essentially makes it easier to work with. Simply put, if RESTful principles have been used during development, then you will have a system that uses the Web’s architecture to your benefit.
Think of the options that you’re given when ordering a steak; rare, medium-rare, medium, well-done, etc. Each adjective means something very specific when it comes to preparing meat, but the point is, you’re familiar with the terms. A RESTful API might be something that your programmers or IT folks already look for when evaluating new software because it makes their jobs easier, allowing them to work with a format they are already familiar with.
What are some of the most common integrations?
Exchanging sets of data is what APIs are designed to do, but some datasets are more easily exchanged than others. Just the same, certain restaurants are known for producing particular dishes very well. Knowing which information is most commonly exchanged through the API will give you an idea of what data you can easily share and what might require a customized integration.
Find out what successful integrations customers have done in the past to give yourself an idea of the most common use-cases. You’ll need to consider which systems you want to connect as a part of your ideal setup, and then evaluate from there. In other words, if you’re looking to order a great piece of sushi, then it’s probably best to avoid the steakhouse when ordering your spicy tuna roll.
What kind of support is provided?
In reality, robust documentation can only get you so far. You’ll need to find out what kind of support is offered beyond text-heavy documents. A lack of hands-on support can be a huge barrier to implementation. Often times, the difference between a good meal and a great meal is the quality of service. In both contexts, good support means that you know you needs matter.
Community forums can also be a great resource for troubleshooting integrations. Viewing a site’s forum will give you an inside look into real customer issues and whether or not they’re being effectively addressed. Dead or stagnant forums are just as useless as no forum at all. Be sure to check that comments/questions are active and being addressed in a helpful manner.
The Bottom Line
Digital technology, like any other tool, is only useful when applied with the proper knowledge and techniques. Whether or not you’re a technical expert, APIs are an important part of the digital tools that allow your software to work for you. Knowing the right questions to ask will help ensure that your software systems can work together to your advantage.
Dozuki offers a robust and flexible API that successfully integrates with countless ERP systems. No only that, but because technical writing is what we do here at Dozuki, our API documentation is extensive and easily searchable.
Schedule a demo to find out how you can use our API to meet your specific needs.