What Are APIs, and How Do They Work? The Enterprise Handbook

You've seen the acronym: API. You've probably nodded in agreement when someone from the IT department or a third-party vendor talked about the benefits of APIs. However, here's the thing: You're not really sure what an API does. You know it stands for "application programming interface," but beyond that, the definition's a bit hazy.

So, what are APIs, and how do they work? More importantly, what benefits do they really offer your enterprise?

APIs, Explained

Every functional piece of code has its own set of APIs. Some aren't publicly available, such as those for the Pinterest app, while sites such as Twitter have curtailed the use of third-party APIs within their service, even as open-source offerings opt for an "anything goes" attitude toward APIs.

So, why all the hand-wringing and strange rules? What's the big deal? Think of it like this: APIs create rule sets that allow applications to "talk" to one another. They're everywhere — every time data moves between two programs or applications, APIs are responsible.

However, it goes deeper than that. Software is now so complex that it can perform virtually any function in the hands of a skilled user. However, given rising pressure on IT teams and stretched budgets for many enterprises, hiring coding experts isn't always a viable option. APIs let even moderately skilled users leverage powerful functions across programs. For example, APIs are what allow users to log in to their Facebook accounts from virtually any other application or web service, and APIs are what integrate Google Maps results into Yelp searches, allowing users to find both restaurant reviews and locations.

APIs play the critical role of simplifying the number and type of functions users can carry out in specific code by clearly defining exactly how programs will interact with other software in any given situation. They dictate what developers can do, what they can access, and how they can integrate specific web services or resources into their apps.

Interface Innovation

As Raconteur notes, APIs are the "linchpins of the platform economy, enabling business everywhere to embed the software capabilities of other platforms within their own apps or websites." The critical starting point is access to the right APIs.

So, what are APIs, and how do they work? More importantly, what benefits do they really offer your enterprise?

Consider the increasingly competitive world of cloud-based communication. Companies are ramping up IT spending on unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) along with reliable video conferencing and VoIP technology solutions. The sheer number of tech solutions on the horizon demands the use of agile and adaptive APIs that can translate requests across multiple applications and deliver a usable result. Here are three real-world examples:

  • Worldwide Text Messaging: You're running a global enterprise that depends on both mobile sales and mobile sales personnel. Calls and email are too slow — you need access to text messages wherever, whenever. The right API gives you the ability to text anywhere, anytime using local numbers and ensures messages reach their destination.
  • Voice-to-Text Transformation: You're in a meeting. Your mobile phone rings, but you can't answer it and the call goes to voicemail. Or does it? With a voice-to-text API bridging the gap between your VoIP system and email client, you get a transcript of the call sent straight to your inbox. That's ideal for companies that need reliable, auditable records of who said what, when, and where.
  • User Validation: One primary pain point for mobile users is slow network authentication. Phone number verification APIs can help quickly validate users without the hassle. Combine this with a two-factor authentication API to ensure the right users always have access. This is critical for any company with a large e-commerce or digital retail presence. Since customers won't stick around to see whether your login process gets any better, it needs to work as intended the first time, and every time.

The question of "What are APIs, and how do they work?" remains critical for many enterprises. However, here's the thing: Beyond their ability to link application functionality and offer industry-specific advantages, APIs are also part of a broader technology evolution driven by function rather than form. The capabilities offered by robust APIs and the potential issues of enterprise-wide implementation make effective deployment daunting even for experienced IT teams. As a result, it's worth partnering with a reliable, industry-respected partner that offers both basic API solutions and the ability to dig deeper and develop more sophisticated solutions.

APIs are the foundation of app communication, but they are often misunderstood and underutilized. If you want better outcomes, know the basics, understand the options, and consider the future of application interaction.

Are you ready to dig deeper with APIs? Connect with Vonage Business to learn how.

Doug Bonderud
Doug Bonderud Contributor

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.


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