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What is an API? How does it work?

November 25, 2014

What is an API?

To nerds and geeks everywhere, the acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. What does that really mean? Good question. In simple terms, an API is an agreement between two pieces of software, generally web-based, with one side agreeing it will provide a specific set of information and another side agreeing it will respond back with information or execute a specific action. The “interface” part of an API is that agreement, or contract, between the two sides.

Though most regular internet users are not aware, web applications and social media sites across the internet are full of, and often built entirely upon, API communication. A great example of an API in action is a Twitter user who has linked their Twitter account to his or her Facebook account. When the user posts a tweet, that tweet can automatically and immediately show on the Facebook page. That background communication between Twitter and Facebook is achieved via an API provided by Facebook.

Choosing a Vendor: Why are APIs important?

A software company provides its API to the public so that other software developers can design products that are powered by its service. No individual vendor or ISV (Internet Service Provider) can lay claim to being able to do everything and being the best at all of it, no matter what their website or marketing materials say. Enterprise solution providers, like Fielding Systems, strive to offer a broad range of functionality, services, and features allowing their customers to optimize their operations. There will be other vendors who have taken one specific piece of an enterprise solution and make it their sole focus to maximize that piece and provide additional value to customers needing that piece. This is where APIs become critical.

If the enterprise and the 3rd party provide well-defined APIs, customers can make the decision to utilize the 3rd party solution for the area that the 3rd party really excels. Instead of now having two disparate systems that customers must utilize to view information, the available APIs can be used to facilitate communication between the two systems seamlessly. This allows the 3rd party to do what they do best, and then that information can be neatly folded into the enterprise solution to work with the information already provided there. With an already existing API infrastructure on both sides, this communication can be facilitated in a relatively short period of time and at a much lower cost than building a custom solution to link the two systems together.

Advantages of Using API

Data: You want it your way.

The other benefit to having APIs available to tech-savvy customers is that they can retrieve data from an enterprise solution and shape, mold, or chart that data in any fashion they want that is not already provided. Do you have a cool graph in Excel you spent two Saturdays putting together and you want to continue using it? With available APIs you can retrieve the data, typically at whatever frequency you want, and bring it right into any other piece of software you want. This allows customers to do a little more with their data without needing to customize their enterprise solution.

Utilizing APIs avoids costly repetition of labor and time consuming tasks, such as passing information to other departments within the organization. An API enables software developers to not have to work from scratch every time a program needs to be written. Rather than creating a single application do all tasks (such as billing, email, etc.), an API allows the application to delegate these tasks to other software that may do the tasks better.

Another advantage of using APIs is that it allows third party service providers to pull specific well details, references IDs, and supporting information necessary for that niche third party to utilize its own APP. This allows the third party to perform its work for the operator and then also feed detailed results seamlessly back into the operator’s system. This essentially allows vendors to seamlessly exchange their niche data capture with the operator without having to build a specific app to do the work or spend extensive integration dollars to exchange data with the vendor.

Summary

In summary, APIs provide a better means of users and applications accessing and sharing data in comparison with more traditional means such as paper files, digital file exchange, CSV files, email and FTP based processing. When choosing a solution provider for your business it is important to choose a provider with established API capabilities for future enhancement, scalability and usability of your information.