Want to cut costs, improve efficiency and increase profits? Develop a killer set of APIs.
APIS, or application programming interfaces, were once the realm of technicaljargon prone software engineers. Today, however, there is a growing need for executives, sales analysts, HR specialists and others in all industries to understand the value of APIs.
All these stakeholders have something in common: They want to cut costs, improve efficiency and boost the bottom line of their company—no matter what industry it’s in. Generally, the way to do that is through technology—specifically, through developing a great set of APIs.
The direct selling industry is no different. Because technology changes so quickly today, it’s even more important for direct selling companies to focus on developing good APIs. This is the message we received from the sources to whom we spoke for this story.
Direct Selling News talked to several direct selling executives with technology backgrounds to get their thoughts on why building APIs is better than trying to update your technology at every turn. But first, let’s take a look at what exactly APIs do.
What Are APIS and How Do They Work?
An application programming interface or API is what allows programs to talk to one another, so they can share data and features. APIs provide a standard way of accessing any application, data or device, whether it is shopping from your phone or accessing cloud applications at work.
APIs define the rules that must be followed in order to interact with a programming language, a software library, or any other software component. A good API makes it easier to develop a program by providing all the building blocks.
Think of an API as a messenger that delivers a request to the provider you’re requesting it from, and then delivers the response back to you. APIs are used by software applications in much the same way that interfaces for apps and other software are used by humans.
Why APIS Matter
For direct sellers to get ahead, they must create a great set of APIs—for their back office and beyond. Because of the strategic significance of APIs, industry executives should feature APIs in their long-term plans and initiatives.
Consider this: If you get good at developing APIs, then your team owns them, and you can plug into other technologies as they become available. Otherwise, you will always be chasing the tail of technology. Our sources told us that APIs are the key to business success in the direct selling industry. For example, your back office needs to be robust enough to support your business, and it needs to present the data that is there—such as customer/distributor details. If you can present this information through an API, you can create the user interface you would like.
The reason this is possible is that APIs are what allow disparate data sources to talk to one another—and this will expand your options exponentially. When data is segmented, you can only see part of the picture. Not so when using an API-based system.
Thus, developing a robust set of APIs is the key to not only sharing data but increasing functionality. These dual benefits offer the promise of a smoother and more contiguous experience across a variety of platforms.
How Data Delivers
In recent years, data has become a crucial resource to companies because of its ability to give those businesses a competitive edge. Companies that become market leaders do so because they understand how to leverage data—how to analyze it, optimize it, monetize it. According to McKinsey & Company, early adopters in various industries have used APIs to create new products, channels and opportunities. For example, in the automotive industry, companies are using APIs to integrate real-time driving data into dashboards. Indeed, developing good APIs is the key to leveraging data to create new opportunities for innovation and business growth.
Another benefit to developing great APIs is that it enables your company to create rules about accessing your data, thus protecting the data’s integrity. Compromised data leads to negative outcomes and dissatisfied customers. It’s also a risk to your business with privacy laws like the GDPR in Europe.
Chasing the Tail of Technology
While technology has always evolved, it is now changing at a much more rapid pace than yesteryear. Today, technology is experiencing exponential growth. As a result, it’s easy for companies to get distracted by technology—or at least the wrong aspects of it—only to discover that chasing technology is a neverending chase.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend time keeping updated but be strategic about it. Does it make things easier and faster? Does it create cost savings? Or, is it leading your company down the rabbit hole?
When it comes to technology, the key seems to be knowing where to focus your energy. Being an expert in APIs allows you to integrate new technology seamlessly and more easily. It also allows you to become an expert on integrations—thus mastering the art of developing technology in such a way that you maximize speed and minimize disruption.
Economies of Scale
Building your back office around a good set of APIs will also allow your company to be nimbler and more agile. The right APIs will enable you to scale and adapt quickly to changing user tastes and new technologies.
How do APIs fit into your company’s big-picture vision? Are they the foundation on which you build your business? Do they play an important role in your strategic plan? These are questions we suggest you ask and answer.
The fact is, if your company is thinking about implementing any piece of new technology, you should seriously consider the API set and documentation. Ensuring that all of your implementations and integrations are based on good APIs makes it much easier to manage and scale your technology.
Anything else will come across as clunky and outdated, something that is just not acceptable today. Manual processes, no matter how efficient, just can’t keep up speed- or scale-wise.
We live in an Amazon world where even the unsophisticated, as it relates to technology, have a certain expectation set. You have to have good data and the ability to access it quickly and flexibly. And that’s what APIs provide.