The 101s: APIs
In today’s internet, tech-driven world, we have information and convenience at our fingertips and we have come to expect instant results. From ordering anything imaginable on Amazon, to connecting smart devices to our phones, everything seems to just work together. But how is it these devices and services can connect and communicate so easily?
It has to do with an Application Programming Interface, more commonly referred to as an API. APIs are how digital services and devices allow applications to share data with one another.
APIs run behind the scenes to automate the request and response of data, resulting in the seamless integration of smart devices and user applications. If an API works correctly, the user never even knows it is there.
How does this work? For a quick thought experiment, let’s say you are looking to talk to someone in a business. You go to the receptionist and ask to speak with this person. The receptionist then calls this person and communicates that you wish to speak with them. They tell the receptionist they will be out soon. The receptionist returns and tells you the person will be out soon. The receptionist, or “API” in this case, receives the request, processes the information with the person you are looking for, and retrieves the response, delivering it back to you.
At its core, an API:
- Acts as the messenger,
- Collects and processes data,
- Returns with the response to the request.
Now let’s take a look at how this works in the digital landscape.
Think of Google Maps. It allows the public to access Google’s map data via an API to integrate it into any application. As Google Maps updates their data on their servers, the API gathering the data will receive this update as well. This gives any application access to that updated information, such as the Uber App. Uber gives rides to customers based on location and how long a trip can take. With the API they can then calculate the routes, fees, and any traffic issues based on that information.
In order for an API to work across multiple developments, there are technical considerations, such as the API’s architectural style. We also have to consider what type of API it will be: internet, browser, product, standard specification, or system-embedded. And, of course, we have to consider the API’s purpose and the service it will be providing. Regardless of the parameters being used, the process would appear seamless to an end user.
APIs are very common across applications, servers, and basically anything digitally connected to each other. The true strength of APIs for businesses is that they become an open platform on which to build. This provides value for others, enabling them to develop and integrate at a faster rate. In fact, here at KMC Controls, we have published our own API for the KMC Commander IoT platform. Our API allows for simple integration between your building’s data through KMC Commander, making it available to any application you want, whether an analytics package, enterprise resource planning software, or the like. Perhaps you are building custom apps for a client or integrating new features into something you have used for years. APIs enable this data to flow seamlessly into other platforms of your choice securely and reliably.
Of course, this is just the surface of APIs, but understanding what they are and having a knowledge of what they can do for your business is invaluable. As information technology and operational technology continue to become more integrated, the connectivity and simple communication between IoT devices will be critical to successful implementation.