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October 21, 2021

APIs – the universal translator of the digital revolution

By GlobalData Technology

APIs are unsung heroes. When considering the many fabulous technologies of the new digital era, the application programming interface, or ‘API’ to its friends, is invisible against the dazzling gleam of AI, augmented reality (AR), or the metaverse. However, the humble API is the little sliver of technology enabling the digital revolution.

Simply put, the function of APIs is to allow systems/applications/online services to ‘talk’ to each other. All of these different platforms store and use data in different ways. When there is a need to transfer data across platforms the API provides the translation between the two.

A simple example is when buying train tickets to travel across more than one country. Each country has its own railway operators, and each has its own system for selling tickets and even routing trains. APIs allow these different ticketing and routing systems to interact. Similar is true when transporting cargo, either by train or on transporter ships. So, the API is underpinning commerce and travel.

But more than that, when you purchase a ticket, or perform any online transaction, APIs provide the connection between banks, payment systems, and the merchant’s online platform. The API is therefore fundamental to the explosion in eCommerce.

Communication through APIs

But its role is also critical when it comes to previously mentioned technologies such as AI or AR. These technologies are delivered by a myriad of different platforms taking to each other, and for the most part the method of ‘communication’ is through APIs.

Such is the importance of APIs in the digitally accelerated world that the Chief Digital Officer of one of the world’s leading telecom providers told GlobalData that their company will not consider working with a technology partner if they do not operate an ‘open API’ methodology. This sentiment is far from unique in the technology sector.

APIs have enabled digitally native startups to play alongside more established technology giants in almost every industry. These smaller companies are able to do so because APIs allow their technology to connect to the dominant systems in the market. This ability to integrate is vital to enabling the agile innovation that is at the heart of digital acceleration.

So next time you marvel at a new technology, remember the unsung role of the API.