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API Integration: Where We Stand

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Applications programming interfaces or APIs continues to be one of the hottest trends in applications development, growing in usage by nearly 800% between 2010 and 2016 according to a recent 2017 survey from API integration vendor, Cloud Elements. Understandably, this growth is fueling an increased demand for API integration, in areas ranging from standardized protocols to authentication and security.

API integration is a subject near and dear to our hearts at Service Objects, given how many of our clients integrate our data quality capabilities into their application environments. Using these survey results as a base, let’s look at where we stand on key API integration issues.

Web service communications protocols

This year’s survey results bring to mind the old song, “A Little Bit of Soap” – because even though the web services arena has become dominated by representational state transfer (REST) interfaces, used by 83% of respondents, a substantial 15% still use the legacy Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) – a figure corroborated by the experiences of our own integrators.

This is why Service Objects supports both REST and SOAP among most if not all services. We want our APIs to be flexible enough for all needs, we want them to work for a broad spectrum of clients, and we want the client to be able to choose what they want, whether it is SOAP or REST, XML or JSON.  And there are valid arguments for both in our environment.

SOAP is widely viewed as being more cumbersome to implement versus REST, however tools like C# in Visual Studio can do most of the hard work of SOAP for you. Conversely, REST – being URL http/get focused – does carry a higher risk of creating broken requests if care is not taken.  Addresses, being a key component in many of our services, often contain URL-breaking special characters.  SOAP inherently protects these values, while REST on a GET call does not properly encode the values and could create broken URLs. For many clients, it is less about preference and more about tools available.

Webhooks: The new kid on the block

Webhooks is the new approach that everyone wants, but few have implemented yet. Based on posting messages to a URL in response to an event, it represents a straightforward and modular approach versus polling for data. Citing figures from Wufoo, the survey notes that over 80% of developers would prefer this approach to polling. We agree that webhooks are an important trend for the future, and we have already created custom ones for several leading marketing automation platforms, with more in the works.

Ease of integration

In a world where both applications and interfaces continue to proliferate, there is growing pressure toward easier integration between tools: using figures cited from SmartBear’s State of the APIs Report 2016, Cloud Elements notes that this is a key issue for a substantial 39% of respondents.

This is a primary motivation for us as well, because Service Objects’ entire business model revolves around having easy-to-integrate APIs that a client can get up and running rapidly. We address this issue on two fronts. The first is through tools and education: we create sample code for all major languages, how-to documents, videos and blogs, design reference guides and webhooks for various CRM and marketing automation platforms. The second is a focus on rapid onboarding, using multiple methods for clients to connect with us (including API, batch, DataTumbler, and lookups) to allow easy access while APIs are being integrated.

Security and Authentication

We mentioned above that ease of integration was a key issue among survey respondents – however, this was their second-biggest concern. Their first? Security and authentication. Although there is a move toward multi-factor and delegated authentication strategies, we use API keys as our primary security.

Why? The nature of Service Objects’ applications lend themselves well to using API keys for security because no client data is stored. Rather, each transaction is “one and done” in our system, once our APIs perform validation on the provided data, it is immediately purged from our system and of course, Service Objects supports and promotes SSL over HTTPS for even greater protection.  In the worst-case scenario, a fraudster that gains someone’s key could do transactions on someone else’s behalf, but they would never have access to the client’s data and certainly would not be able to connect the dots between the client and their data.

Overall, there are two clear trends in the API world – explosive growth, and increasing moves toward unified interfaces and ease of implementation. And for the business community, this latter trend can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, you can count on Service Objects to stay on top of the rapidly evolving API environment.

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