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An In-depth Guide to API Integration Platforms

Posted by Angela Davis on October 31, 2022
Angela Davis

API integration technology can be a game changer for modern businesses. In this article, we take you through everything you need to know about it, from what it is to the features you should look for in your ideal platform.

API stands for “application programming interface”. Put simply, this enables different parts of a digital system to interact with each other. For example, it connects databases with applications, user requests with the server that fulfills them, and so on.

Basically, an API is a go-between—a messenger or mediator that helps different programs and applications talk to one another. If it helps, picture your API as a carrier pigeon, flying important instructions and information back and forth across cyberspace. 

An infographic showing how an API acts as a messenger between different programs and applications.

Of course, carrier pigeons work best when there’s an infrastructure for them to operate within—trained handlers, roosts, feeding stations, etc. In the same vein, APIs function best with an API integration platform. This provides an integrated infrastructure that allows multiple APIs to “fly” with ease between systems.

A short overview of API integration platforms

API integration platforms act as crucial connectors, allowing communication between things like your CRM, databases, legacy and core systems, authentication tools, checkout, pipelines, SaaS applications, and so on.

They enable connectivity, streamline workflows, aggregate data and business logic, and give you greater control over multiple systems. Overall, an API integration platform provides flexibility without complexity when connecting systems and data, unlike the ESB/SOA integration approach. 

This makes your API operations smarter, more strategic, less labor-intensive, and more effective. 

The significance of enterprise integration platforms

The definition of an API integration platform is one that allows multiple APIs to automatically communicate. This is important as most businesses operate with tens if not hundreds of these. For example, they may have omnichannel, eCommerce, internal ops, payments, and KYC APIs.

As the internet of things (IoT) expands, the number of APIs a business uses is likely to skyrocket. So, the need for enterprise integration platforms is greater than ever.

While it’s possible for these APIs to communicate without an integration platform, it takes more work. You may have to manually connect to the apps, collect and feed in data and business logic from each API, aggregate, test, add security, etc. to draw integrated insights. This is mundane, lengthy, and time-consuming work that requires change management, maintenance, audits, documentation, and so on.

With an enterprise integration platform, however, you give APIs the infrastructure they need to talk to each other—i.e. you create a well-structured, well-documented, API-first approach. This saves a lot of work and effort and brings huge benefits to your business, with faster time to market and cost reductions. 

You can reduce your workload even further by using a low-code API integration platform.

The benefits of using the best API integration platform

Cost savings

Time is money, and a SaaS or hybrid API integration platform saves a lot of it. As we’ve discussed, getting systems to talk to one another via APIs without integrating them is a laborious and mundane process. 

Building connectors to multiple apps involves complex core and on-prem systems (such as the mainframe, midrange, and databases like VSAM) parsing their metadata, exposing existing business logic and data, adding more logic, and aggregating with flows on top. 

There’s also the need to put security and testing in place, plus documentation and maintenance. This makes the manual processes needed to implement these connections slow, costly, and complex to manage. 

All of this goes away when you decide to use an API integration platform. 

Boosted productivity

Similarly, time saved on managing APIs can be spent more productively. With the burden of API creation, monitoring, and management lifted from their shoulders, your team can devote their days to more important work.

A good API integration platform allows for good development support, accommodating DevOps pipeline and CI/CD requirements, which opens up a world of opportunities when it comes to productivity.

Streamlined maintenance

It’s also easier to maintain a product. A service generated from an integrated system using a product approach will come with pre-configured documentation, standardization, testing, embedded security protocols, and change request mechanisms for reusability. Hence, maintenance can be done all at once, without the need to continually educate teams on what has been done and built.

What’s more, most enterprise API integration platforms come with built-in maintenance automations, which can take away the burden of upkeep altogether.

Robust framework security

The more APIs you’re generating, exposing, and managing (internally and externally), the more vulnerable your system is to cyber-attacks. Each API presents an “entry point”, so is a potential gateway for a security breach.

By using an API integration platform, your APIs will have pre-configured security protocols based on your organizational requirements, as well as the ability to add and extend these further with the “latest and greatest” security mechanisms. This reduces risks and adds extra automatic security measures into the bargain.

Optimized API management

As we’ve mentioned, it takes a lot of time and effort to manage separate APIs. With an enterprise API integration and management system, you can not only consolidate the workload but automate and optimize it according to the data insights you get i.e. volume, monetization, accessibility, etc.

This reduces your workload and optimizes management. Overall, integrated APIs can be handled much more efficiently, meaning they ultimately perform at a higher level than their unintegrated counterparts.

A spider diagram illustrating API integration.

Source

Tips for a successful custom API integration

There are plenty of companies out there offering enterprise integration platforms as a service. If you prefer, it’s also possible to build your own custom API integration platform.

It’s not a drag-and-drop kind of operation, and building one is highly labor-intensive. However, if you know enough about code, digital architectures, and your business's IT infrastructure, it’s definitely achievable.

In this section, we’ll give you a few tips for running a custom API integration successfully.

Document consistently

Documentation is important for any kind of coding project, and API integration is no different.

Being thorough and consistent with documentation will:

  • Improve communication between all team members (including remote teams and/or independent contractors).
  • Reduce synchronization time.
  • Keep everyone up to date on the project’s progress.
  • Maintain the project’s velocity.

Review the usage terms and license agreements

There are plenty of software options out there that can help with your custom API integration. The right one for you will depend on the nature of your business, your systems, and your resources.

Whichever you choose, it’s worth reminding you at this point how important it is to review the usage terms and license agreements.

Key points, such as the length of contract terms and subscription conditions, will be detailed here, so, if you don’t want to find yourself unexpectedly cut off from your integrations, or locked into a contract that offers you no flexibility, it’s vital to review these.

Understand the ins and outs of the architecture

You may be using an integration platform to take the research and hard work of managing APIs off your shoulders, and the right platform will indeed do this for you. However, if you’re building a custom integration, you’ll still need a decent understanding of the architecture.

The more you know about your integration platform architecture, the easier you’ll find it to build, install, monitor, manage, modify, and use it to your advantage.

The more knowledge you have on the tools and platforms you use, the better, so make a point of understanding the ins and outs of your API integration platform architecture and any relevant software applications. 

Handle errors accordingly

Things will go wrong from time to time, even with the best platform, knowledge, and team available. What makes all the difference is not the errors themselves but the way you handle them.

When creating a custom API integration, you’re going to experience challenges. Apps will regularly de-sync, data will fall through the cracks, and vital steps will get overlooked. There will be mistakes at all points in the API lifecycle, and these will cause delays.

The best you can do is to establish protocols for dealing with errors, no matter where in your ecosystem they occur. Come up with workarounds, and figure out when a workaround is appropriate and when you need to dive deeper into the code to fix things. This will help avoid delays and allow you to progress faster with your custom integration.

What is a direct API integration?

This allows you to directly integrate with a particular service via an API. You can do this through a custom integration or by using a specialist company.

For example, if you go to an online checkout and have the option to use PayPal or Google Pay, you’re using a direct API integration. 

PayPal Checkout’s integration technical flow.

Image source

In this case, the API integration allows the checkout system to communicate directly with your stored payment details and take payment without you entering these. It saves time and effort while simultaneously keeping customer bank details secure.

So, a direct API integration speeds up processes by embedding them into your architecture and facilitating communication between servers, databases, apps, etc. It essentially cuts out the middleman to get to endpoints faster—without compromising security.

The five best API integration platforms for businesses and companies

If you wish to focus your efforts on business outcomes, and continue to mature your digital strategy with a scalable API-first approach, your ROI will be greater with appropriate API integration and management tools. 

Let’s take a look at five of the best API software solutions.

1. OpenLegacy API Integration Platform

OpenLegacy Logo

OpenLegacy enables the generation, design, and deployment of API integration however you want it. Rather than being restricted to proprietary software, core, legacy, and monolithic applications and systems, you’re free to create an API abstraction layer that fits your current and future architecture.

At the same time, the OpenLegacy product removes a lot of the trials inherent in creating custom API integrations, with a selection of connectors, in particular to complex core and on-prem systems (such as the mainframe, midrange, and databases like VSAM) and automations to speed up development. The tech suite, in particular, makes it a flexible and scalable solution.

Unlike some of the fully automated platforms on this list, our open framework offers full, low, and no-code options for a variety of coding languages, so it can accommodate the client's preferences. 

This is a flexible, standard, and decoupled approach to integrating any on-prem system with cloud-native endpoints via APIs. 

2. Workato

Workato logo

Image source

Workato is a powerful and popular enterprise integration platform. It offers end-to-end integration for cloud-based applications and prides itself on being a one-stop shop for all your integration needs. Customers note that it’s smooth and easy to use, secure, and reliably automates essential processes in real-time.

However, if you’re a large enterprise looking for something that can handle huge datasets and complex workloads, as well as on-prem, core, or legacy and customized application integration, you might want to consider Workato along with the OpenLegacy partnership. 

3. Google Apigee Integrations

Google Cloud logo

Image source

Like most Google services, Apigee Integrations is designed with broad and general needs in mind. It offers the full range of what you’d expect from an API integration platform—the ability to build and deliver new apps, data integration and flows, greater efficiency, analytics, and so on—and it offers these to a high standard.

However, it’s not a custom API services company, so if you have complex business needs, on-prem, core, or legacy and customized application integration, you might consider it along with the OpenLegacy partnership. This will provide you with a full end-to-end, all-application-inclusive platform. 

So, to break it down, if you want an all-in-one API integration solution, which performs well and has a range to offer, Google Apigee is a good choice. Pricing is also competitive and customized to the needs of each business. 

4. Dell Boomi

Dell Boomi logo

Image source

Boomi (formerly known as Dell Boomi) offers a host of premier features and is great for integrating cloud and on-prem applications. It’s simple and straightforward to use, and the quality of customer service is exceptional. If you want a simple, efficient, and effective integration platform, it’s an excellent choice.

However, to tackle the needs of large enterprises with complex on-prem, core, or legacy and customized application integration, you might consider the Boomi platform along with the OpenLegacy partnership. This will ensure a full end-to-end, all-applications-inclusive solution.

5. Microsoft Azure API Management Power Automate 

Microsoft Azure logo

Image source

Microsoft Azure is a slick, reliable, and efficient API integration platform. You can use it to build and publish APIs both internally and externally. You can also use it to manage and use microservices via API.

Microsoft Azure is relatively customizable but, like Google Apigee, it’s designed for a broad audience, so you can’t get into minute detail with it. That said, there are various usage models you can choose from, which allows you to toggle your needs to a certain extent before you start and then customize from there.

As for pricing, on the face of it, Azure is one of the most cost-effective options out there. However, as you build your product yourself, the price varies depending on what you need.

Factors for choosing the best API integration software

So, how do you know which of these is right for you? Let’s go through a list of things to consider when choosing the best API integration software for your business:

Risk mitigation

One of the most important things to consider is the nature of the data and logic your APIs will be dealing with and the risks associated with things going wrong.

 

Think about what an API-related risk would look like, how it might happen, what could be lost, and what the consequences would be. This will give you an idea of the kinds of things at stake and the sort of features you need to be looking for to mitigate your risks.

Effective DevOps

An infographic showing the stakeholders who benefit from DevOps.

Image source

Perhaps the biggest advantage of enterprise API integration software is its continuous development. Rather than having to manually adjust and update your integrations, you can rely on regular upgrades from the platform over the course of its lifecycle.

Look for a platform with a good back-end DevOps team. Ask around to find out what other users think of the platform’s performance.

Enhanced security

Security is incredibly important. Data breaches can not only damage your business’ operation but destroy your customers’ trust in you and have serious legal ramifications.

It therefore makes sense to look for a platform with the best possible security features. Also, make sure security is regularly updated so it isn’t compromised as time goes on.

Extensive API handling

Even if your API maturity is in its infancy and your needs are minimal, it’s good to have the option to expand if required. So, it’s a wise idea to get a platform that’s capable of extensive API handling. The more your platform can manage, the more you’ll be able to do with it.

Seamless synchronization

Synchronization is more important than ever in this era of cloud computing. Your API platform will probably involve some cloud components, which will frequently update. Therefore, it’s important for your platform to seamlessly sync and incorporate changes, updates, and new data.

Leverage an API integration platform for quality API performance

So, we’ve now provided a definition, explored the API integration process, looked at the best platforms, and identified features to look out for. Hopefully, by this point, we’ve convinced you that an integration platform—whether custom-made or bought as a service—will make a huge difference to your business processes.

By using an API integration platform, you can markedly improve the way your business runs. Choosing the right solution will save time, improve productivity, and make your digital services a lot more efficient. This could spark a digital transformation for your brand, leading to digital excellence and composable enterprise architecture.

The right API integration platform for you depends a lot on the specific needs of your business. There are plenty of options available, however, so shop around to get what you need.

FAQs 

A graphic showing key questions on API integration platforms.

What is open API integration?

An open API is publicly available to anyone who wants to use it. They’re often published on the internet and easily accessed. These APIs are frequently used by software developers to speed up processes without expending too much of their budget.

Because of their open-source nature, they can be hard to manage. However, it’s possible to integrate open APIs into your platform. If you do so, ensure your security measures are as tight as possible. Applying a layer of encryption, like TLS, may also be a good idea.

What is an API integration platform?

An API integration platform enables multiple APIs to communicate across a network. They’re often used by businesses to save time and money, as well as boost productivity, and make digital operations faster and more efficient.

A good API integration platform will help a business automate a great many processes, which makes them more productive and improves the customer experience. For example, integrating a PayPal API into your eCommerce checkout saves customers from having to enter their card details, making your checkout faster, easier, and more appealing.

How does API integration work?

API integration connects two or more APIs, allowing them to communicate seamlessly. This makes digital processes faster and more flexible.

What is API-based integration?

API-based integration involves improving a business’ digital connectivity by linking up its APIs.

APIs are digital “go-betweens” that carry vital data and instructions between apps, tools, interfaces, servers, and data sources. By integrating APIs, a business can massively improve its connectivity. 

API-based integration also enables a lot of automation. It gives digital components the power to communicate with one another, without having to rely on human input. With the right programming, this enables APIs to facilitate automated processes such as automatically sending out delivery notices.

Topics: API Integration and Management