APIs and what they actually do for your business

APIs and the conversation about what they do has intensified over the last decade.  What are APIs and how are they helpful?

This article examines in business terms what an API is and how they can be leveraged.

  • Who’s got the remote control?
  • Types of APIs
  • Security concerns
  • Building one

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Who’s got the remote control?

A simple analogy

The Kettle.  How do you turn the kettle on?  Simple answer is to flick the switch at the back of it.  There are two states, on and off.

Now that requires you to be physically at the kettle.

 

In a car you like everything manageable from the drivers position.

So in a car you change gears.  In an automatic car you are not physically making something happen, you’re interacting with a gear lever.

Elsewhere in the engine things respond to your command.

 

The Internet has made global communication a possibility.  What if you could control the kettle through the Internet?

To do this the kettle would need a connection to the Internet.  Ok, so you plug the internet into the kettle.  The next thing it needs is some software to listen for commands.  The thing listening for the commands is generically called an API or Application Programming Interface.

 

With predictions that by 2025 more than half the workplace tasks will be done by machines, who’s holding the remote control?

 

Put an API on everything

Image from http://bit.ly/2Np5KF4

So in this modern world of high speed Internet and the ability to connect more and more devices, more and more APIs are appearing.

 

Sending an instruction to turn on / off goes into the kettle.  The temp of the water or how full the kettle is information coming from the kettle.  Instructions in and information out is called two way.  Not all APIs are two way.

 

Some things having an API are very helpful.  Your heating system at home can have an API.

Climote, HIVE or nest are the prime options at the moment.  You can heat parts of your house and even set the temperature from your mobile phone.

With more and more options getting their own APIs a term Internet of Things or IoT has emerged to categorise devices with APIs.

There are lots of exciting and emerging options. Home invention and new products are emerging all the time.

 

Something new, from something old

Where businesses are adapting is taking existing technologies and adding APIs to them.

The more APIs available the more a new lease of life is given to products.

Emerging technologies such as 5G offer higher internet connection speeds, more capacity and connectivity.  So devices can end up anywhere.

 

Most noteworthy, solutions can be interconnected to create more powerful solutions.

You might have 20 devices in your home.  Make them all IoT and as a result you now have a home you could remote control from your mobile phone!

Phone systems, CRMs, communications tools, websites, mobile phones all can have APIs added giving them new capabilities and scope to become new products and services.

 

Types of APIs

Communications

The snapshot from the FitBit app on my phone for July 1st 2018 for Philip Lacey

Email, SMS, Whatsapp, Messenger, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others now have APIs to allow your solutions connect more immediately.

Systems can send a message automatically something happens.  It’s been possible to text your kettle to turn on since 2005. 

Even more the ability for multiple systems to work together has massively changed solutions forever.

 

Devices such as a FitBit gather data about your person and send them via the internet on your mobile phone to a central server.

As a result this central server can present information back to you in a more meaningful way.

Furthermore when the power is low in your FitBit you can get an email or phone message.

There are many suppliers looking to make these APIs available for your solutions.

Phonovation for example provide numerous ways to connect many different mediums.

 

Analytics

Image from http://bit.ly/2powDKR

This information was always in the world but by gathering the data via APIs it allows new ways of visualising and managing data.

Google Analytics alone allows you to place a small piece of code in pretty much any web page and begin tracking vast amounts of data about viewers of your pages.

Is this information valuable?  Metrics are always useful but remembering to review them is the challenge.

Almost all APIs give you the opportunity to collect analytical data, even if it’s just checking the API is available and responding.

 

 

Hardware and Software

With the IoT explosion, any piece of hardware could be connected to the internet.  Video cameras, watches, GPS trackers for vehicles.

Developers and adapting companies recognise the power of APIs.  Therefore many older software packages are being updated to now have APIs.

As a result a new version of the software comes out and there is something to upgrade to.

The new way to interact with known software products results in new and interesting solutions.

Solutions like bxp software have two way APIs.

Not just sending instructions to turn the kettle on, the temperature of the kettle and the water level can also be sent back to be tracked.

 

Security concerns

Only one gate to manage

Different APIs are in different stages of evolution but think about your banking app.

As a result you can now send instructions to and get information from your bank on your mobile phone.

This is down to the bank having an API for their services and that mobile phone app being able to connect to that API.

 

Programmers build websites and mobile apps in similar ways, connecting to the APIs.

The challenge is that the API is public and as a result APIs need tight security and management.

One way in and out of the business is a security gate.

Because this gate is available on the Internet, it is globally accessible 24/7 and needs to be secured 24/7.

Hackers

The term hacker needs qualification.  Hacker has many definitions:

  • firstly one that hacks.
  • also a person who is inexperienced or unskilled at a particular activity a tennis hacker.
  • furthermore an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer.
  • a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system.

Originating in computer spheres from people who could hack technological solutions together to make the solution solve a problem the term needed further clarification.

A black hat hacker “violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain”

white hat hacker is a computer security specialist who breaks into protected systems and networks to test and asses their security. White hat hackers use their skills to improve security by exposing vulnerabilities before malicious hackers (black hat hackers) can detect and exploit them.

Some people want to be malicious for the sake of it.  So APIs present a greater and greater opportunity to do damage.

Consequently and inversely the market for white hat hackers securing APIs exploded.

 

Cars and pacemakers

If you have heart trouble a pacemaker can change your life.

As a result of heart trouble in some cases, surgeons place the device in the heart of patients to help regulate the rhythm of the heart.

This technology massively benefits from an API.

If your heart stops, the pacemaker can help, whilst simultaneously alerting medical authorities.  How amazing to have this as an option.

The system allows medical professionals remotely control the pacemaker.

Yet in August 2017, they were found to be hackable.  Over 500,000 pacemakers recalled, how much surgery is that?

 

White hat hackers from the Keen Security Lab in China found a way to hack the Tesla Model S.  They reported the findings to Tesla.  The “what if” is what makes people nervous.

They could operate the brakes, lights and all manner of capabilities that have an API.

 

Building one

Building an API is as simple as setting up a technology stack with a bit of web programming.

You can use cheap simplistic computers such as a Raspberry PI to make many devices controllable.

Securing and watching over your API is where the real challenge lies

 

If you have an idea or a business solution you think would benefit from an API chat to the bxp team.

There’s a generic secured two way API instantly available to use in bxp.  Whether sending instructions and or receiving data bxp has built a generic plug and play API.

Chat to the bxp team if you’d like to see an integration example you’re trying to accomplish.

 

bxp has been linked to Sage accounting solutions, Realex payment solutions, phone systems, communications solutions, social media APIs, mobile apps, international websites and countless other projects.

If your device or solution has an API you can control it from inside bxp as well.  bxp can be your entire business remote control.

 

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.

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