The necessity of building APIs skyrocketed over the last year as retail companies needed to restructure their technical environments. While the pandemic forced consumers to stay home, companies needed to find a way to substitute the lack of foot traffic and in-person communications — APIs did just that. With the ability to connect various software — ERP, CRM systems, supply chain management, etc. — many businesses ramped up their eCommerce abilities to meet their customers exactly where they were: at home.
As a long-time service provider of API solutions, XTIVIA was at the forefront of that movement. Through our experience with numerous clients, big and small, we found some commonalities within the challenges they faced and want to offer advice on how to best move forward with API projects.
Identify the Scope of APIProject
Whether identifying the scope of your API project is done internally or with a consultant’s help, determining the range is vital. What kind of cross-platform applications and cross-technology are you trying to integrate? What are the problems your company is trying to solve with the integration? Who are the stakeholders, and which departments will be most affected? Answering these questions allows you to design an integration architecture that checks all the boxes.
“API involves building a software and enterprise system architecture that connects an internal network between enterprise applications, enabling succinct communication across an organization’s technical landscape.”
Similarly, identifying the scope calls for you to determine your enterprise’s challenges and the success criteria for solving them. For instance, if your company is a manufacturer/distributor and your employees or customers don’t have access to inventory, that’s the challenge you should look to solve. Suppose you’re exclusively B2C and your employees need a 360-degree view of their customers, but disparate data sources hinder your ability to create customer profiles. In that case, data unification will be a pivotal piece of the puzzle. Finding that piece also calls for a few essential actions:
- Identify Critical Data Sources: As you evaluate your project’s intricacies, your team may find numerous stagnant repositories, legacy information, and islands of automation. However daunting they may seem, this is one of the most fulfilling parts of the project. It allows you to see where your company is distributing its data, who’s using which sources, where you can make cuts, and most importantly, how you’ll be organizing your network of consumption. This sort of data “centralization” will give you more autonomy over your API solution.
- Fight for Quality Data: Dirty data is the bane of all data-centric operations — without quality data, you can’t enjoy quality results. Whether your enterprise has data across three systems or 100, the possibility of inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent data can be significant; and, depending on how pervasive the issue is, you may have a whole different project on your hands. (For a look into the process of cleaning your data, check out the article here.) When you’re working toward an enterprise API, you need to fight for quality across your organization’s applications and platforms. Not only will it help you create an integration architecture, but clean data is the foundation of business intelligence and optimized customer experience. Quality data is the key to creating better opportunities, both inside and outside of your organization. Thus, it’s as essential to APIs as it is to an enterprise’s ongoing success.
The key to beginning a successful API project is to compose an encapsulating roadmap that highlights key parts of the journey and the ultimate destination. With that map in hand, a technology partner to help you along the way will be in a better position to create the most optimal solution.
Maintaining Your API
The details of API will be different for each organization, and with the roadmap explained above, development and deployment will surely have more guidance. And, once the process is complete, it becomes a matter of maintenance and ongoing education. Like the entire digital evolution process, API is not a one-and-done experience; instead, it requires constant upkeep, evaluation, and ongoing training for your employees.
Even if you have a strong technology partner who provides maintenance and support for the solution, creating a knowledge center and training documentation is a best practice. Begin by designating an administrator or integration champion who can be the go-to person for IT and business needs. They can help mediate the problems that might arise from the fluidity of requirements on both sides and help the organization identify protocol and priorities as needs change.
The integration champion will also help compile documentation on the solution and help provide necessary information for employees’ ongoing training. Having support is vital, but having the internal resources to drive continued improvements and autonomy is the real key to success.
Business operations have changed, and if digital transformation projects hadn’t been a priority for you before, the repercussions of COVID-19 have certainly given it precedence. As it helps solve many of the pandemic’s barriers, it also increases a company’s ability to improve operational efficiencies and deliver state-of-the-art network communication. By leveraging best practices, the right strategy, and having an experienced partner to mediate the process, APIs can provide incredible results through and beyond the toils of our current economy.