API Integration the past, the present and the future

Updated: Apr 20

API Integration or ‘application programming interface’, is the catalyst that enables the connection and interaction between two or more platforms and devices. It enables and processes data-driven requests between the platforms and devices and ensures a seamless functioning of the systems within a business. API Integration essentially tells the software of one system how to talk to the software of another system so both systems can work together in an integrated way. We could do with a bit of API Integration in politics.

Integration in its simplest form

In its simplest form, integration is the process of bringing together things that were once separate. That could mean for example the integration of people, perhaps of different race, gender or ethnicity. Another word for integration is fusing, like the fusing together of two pieces of metal, or blending, like peanut butter and protein powder for your morning smoothie. You may not realize it, but just like you are integrating things like food in your life every day you are also in use of API Integration every day.

API Integration is at your fingertips

API Integration is at play all around you for example, when you make online purchases. If you book a movie from your phone, then API integration is at work communicating between the movie booking system and your banks payment system. They are two separate systems working together to make sure that you have your seat booked and that the cinema receives their payment for that booking.

What happens is that the movie booking portal (which has an API) sends the booking information to the bank’s payment processing portal (which also has an API). You are then redirected from the booking screen to your bank’s payment page to authenticate your credit card details and process the payment. Once the payment has been successfully processed you are again redirected to the movie booking page, via API Integration, and your movie is booked. The communication taking place between the movie booking portal and the payment processing portal is executed by integrating the two separate APIs.

You need to know where the technology has been, to understand where it is going

Earlier forms of API Integration were in existence long before APIs ruled the web. Devices and platforms used to operate in isolation of one another. As devices, like computers, evolved in their functionality and entered the mass consumer market, the need for these devices and their system software to communicate with each other became a cornerstone component in the success of that system.

Electronic data interchange causes API to take off

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) was one of the early forms of integration technologies. Although the first concept was birthed in the 1940’s, and was stimulated through advancements in military logistics, it was only in the 1970’s that the first integrated system using EDI was developed.

This system was the London Airport Cargo EDP (electronic data processing) scheme (LACES) and it kicked off the first implementation of EDI successfully. LACES allowed forwarding agents to send information directly into the customs processing system. EDI provided the requirements needed for the format of documents, message flow, transmission of data and the software that would interpret the documents. It ultimately improved efficiencies and saved time and money through integration rather than new system development.

Jump forward to the 1990s and we have the advent of the world wide web (that’s the internet for any millennials reading this). The internet created a greater demand for distributed systems. Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) was developed and allowed for integration between various web-based systems. CORBA allowed for communication between systems and software written in different languages.

CORBA was one of the earliest forms of modern API Integration that allows communication between software systems that have different applications.

As time went on more technologies were developed and made available on the internet which offered improved integration and communication between platforms. A part of this progression was the development of service-oriented architecture (SOA). In its purest form SOA allows the piecing together of various functionalities from existing services to create unified applications through simplified integration.

Coupled with SOA is ESB (enterprise service bus) developed in 2002. ESB provides a more seamless method of developing applications on top of various services, again presenting one service interface to an end user. ESB is meant to provide a standard, structured, and general-purpose method of integrating loosely combined services.

Microservices Architecture - the crème de la crème of API Integration

There is a variant of SOA architecture called microservices architecture. The BancX platform uses a microservices architecture which improves modularity (API). A microservices architecture allows for greater customisation around specific business functions. In short, the microservice architectural style allows for the development of single applications into a suite of small services, each running its own processes. You can imagine that getting as granular as this in API Integration makes upgrading or changes of the application much easier than ever before because they are not all bundled together but exist; and can be changed/updated independently.

Microservices drives and grows big business opportunities like Amazon

Some well-known brands that use a microservices architecture are Netflix, Amazon and Uber. For example, Amazon, the world’s biggest online retail store, started by building its platform as one giant non-independent service offering. When they wanted to scale their operations and add functionality to the platform, to keep up with customer demand, they found it difficult to do so because everything was bundled together. They then decided to break the platform up, into smaller more independent and manageable applications, that could be scaled independently as they needed to be, while at the same time being integrated to provide a wholistic service experience.

API Integration allows for mass collaboration

API Integration allows for the collaboration of different service providers. There is no longer the need to build costly platforms because, in all likelihood, it already exists and can just be integrated into an existing system in a timely and cost-effective manner. The BancX platform does exactly that. It integrates with businesses existing systems and at the same time allows businesses to offer financial services they may not have been able to offer before like lending, transacting and savings accounts. API Integration is about fusing different technologies together to create better products for customers and grow business revenue.

Lastly and most importantly - Restful API Integration

REST (Representational State Transfer) was created for the purpose of standardising the communication and exchange of data between two servers anywhere in the world. RESTful APIs remove a lot of the complexity around API integration by providing a standardised framework within which to develop an API. Just like aviation around the world has been standardised from airport to airport. Although there were many rules developed they were universal rules to make integration of APIs as simple as possible.

REST APIs have become the backbone of the Internet and creators of huge business opportunities and that is why BancX, by using restful API, creates huge financial services opportunities that were not available in the banking and FSP (financial service providers) market before.

The future of API

Like most technology the development of API’s had advanced rapidly and gone from strength to strength. REST will continue to improve and big tech companies like Google and Facebook will continue to grow the API ‘industry’.

Google has developed gRPC for which Google describes as “a modern, open source remote procedure call (RPC) framework that can run anywhere. It enables client and server applications to communicate transparently, and makes it easier to build connected systems’.

Facebook has developed GraphQL which they describe as “GraphQL is a query language for your API, and a server-side runtime for executing queries by using a type system you define for your data. GraphQL isn't tied to any specific database or storage engine and is instead backed by your existing code and data”.

The days of employing a team of engineers and costly servers are thankfully behind us. An API key (as simple as from Mail Chimp) and the documentation for that application are all you need for seamless integration to open up a world of functionality and products.

API Integration has become a valuable tool in the new digital economy. According to Gartner, by 2018, at least 50% of business to business transactions or exchanges or trades or collaborations or whatever you would like to call it, will be driven by powerful and really smart, Web APIs.

Welcome to the future.