What is an API? (And why is it needed?)
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is an interface to a software system designed to allow access from another system. In other words, a computer talking to a computer. A great human analogy would be you as a Point Of Sale software system, and a county records office as Quickbooks. If you go looking for a record of something the clerk at the front desk will ask who you are and why you need it. The clerk here is similar to an API, and the inquiry about who you are would be authentication. Once this step is passed successfully a request is made and the records clerk (API) would then find your file and bring it back to you. Note how you never access the complete file system, but instead ask the clerk to retrieve or store the information for you. They are the interface to a much larger system and all information passes through them with strict rules.
The rules of an API are part of what make them so effective. Programmers can easily determine what information they are sending or receiving and in which format. Data is clean, so transfers are smooth and lightning fast.
So now that we see how an API is a tidy go-between, a neat connection for two systems to communicate, we can begin to see the possibilities. Most businesses use several different systems to facilitate their daily operations and often these systems are independent of each other entirely—this leads to manual data entry, which is expensive and often flawed. Connecting software with an API is something that is accessible to even the smallest of businesses, and it offers huge returns in efficiency and accuracy. If you use several software systems in your daily work, do a quick search to see if they have API’s to work with, and then talk to a developer. You’ll be glad you did.