My names Christina Chander, some of you may know me from my time on Support back in 2014 or may not even know me at all but I now head all of our API integrations at Codeweavers, I’ve been around for 5 years (often referred to as a veteran or apart of the furniture by Dealers) and today I’m here to explain what an API is, how they can help you enhance your platforms and change the way you work on a day to day basis.
API? What does it do? What does it even mean? The million dollar question that cause the common misconception that API’s are technical and are generally avoided by anyone without a technical background. Although it may take a “techie” to integrate an API, there is still a lot of work to be done to understand what a specific API can bring to your business/company and how it can enhance your system/platform or the way you work.
Starting with the basics, API stands for “Application Programming Interface”. In simple terms APIs when integrated allow different systems and interfaces to interact with each other and perform an action or extract data to utilise it. Similar to when you use a Part Exchange tool online or via a system - it will have an API built into a service provider like HPI or CAP which provides the data based on the parameters you’ve entered i.e VRM, Current Mileage, Service History etc. It's a great way to have others reselling your product.
Open API’s are widely available to everyone and require no access keys/credentials. Examples include Google Maps, Weather, Stock Exchange and Social Media.
Customer/ Partner APIs are provided to clients, business users and strategic partners and require specific access entitlements i.e subscriptions to the service or validation to gain access. Like payment merchants such as Paypal and Stripe.
Internal APIs are not designed to be exposed or used outside of the business. They are often utilised to provide development teams with ways to improve and manage efficiency, productivity, and level of service within a company’s core offerings.
You may integrate a weather API onto your website, so dependent on the weather you can organise which vehicles or adverts you display first on your homepage. If it's hot you may opt to display convertibles first or if it's cold you may display your 4x4 SUVs first.
A Time API allows you to toggle the colour display of your website to enable a night and day mode dependant on what device you're viewing the website on. For example, after 7pm, you may invert your website background to black if you're visiting the website on a mobile device, similar to how Apple has Night Shift on the iPhone. You can also enable pop up messages on the website via a time API to reveal a countdown until a special offer expires eg free delivery or low-cost finance or behind the scenes generate a help chat box at the front end of the website if a customer has not performed an action on the page within 60 seconds.
The possibilities are endless but it does rely on understanding what is accessible to you and how can you use API’s to add value to your platform/service or just enhance the way you work.
Let’s set the scene… I own a product called Brand X and it is a DMS system that has the capabilities to manage stock inventory, manage cash/finance deals and generate reports and paperwork. As the market has grown and new technologies are being developed, my system is no longer a match for competitors whose systems have additional features such as Multi Lender quoting, Lender submission and valuations. What I can do is add relevant API’s to my system that will ensure that my system has all the features I need.
I can spend time and money developing my own quoting and submission system by contacting every Lender/Partner/Broker and getting together a development team to learn how to integrate and calculate finance. By the time I’ve completed this option, unless I have been able to excel in a short amount of time, the market will have changed and again there will be systems and platforms adding to the market meaning more competition and more risk of becoming replaced or even worse extinct! If that doesn’t work out I can always tell my customers that this functionality isn't available and at the same time lose customers to other competitors and fall behind in the market.
At the moment, it's looking like a lose-lose situation but this is where APIs come in and not only save the day but enable you to work smarter not harder. With API’s so you can achieve more by doing less. APIs allow you to integrate only the features you want and need from a provider instead of taking the whole package.
Taking Codeweavers as an example (of course), we have our Lead Management System called Showroom and although we love that, we know it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. Not everything in the world can be loved, it’s why some prefer Apple and some Android. However, we do offer an extensive range of API services to essentially build your own platform that is powered by our services. If you’re looking for finance quotes we have an API for that or If you’re just looking for payment search we’ve got you covered. If you love the system you’re currently using but love our finance calculators as well, no worries we have an API that transfers all the leads and proposals from Showroom to a DMS/CRM of your choice.
If you had access to an API Service that could give you real-time finance quotes for 20 or more Automotive Captive/Non-Captive/Prime Lenders on HP & PCP for New and Used cars, how would you use that data to enhance your platform for your Retailers?
Just to name a few ...
Using Compare The Market as an example, we will look into how an API works in the background to give you the service/data you need on the frontend.
I’m a customer and I am looking for a new Car Insurance quote. Naturally, you want to find the best quote so you head over to a comparison site like Compare The Market to find your next car insurance quote. Firstly you’ll be presented with a form where you enter all your details as requested, the data is being captured and compiled into what we call a “request”. A request essentially is an object that transfers data from one system to another. Once you have completed the form and you hit submit, all those details are sent across through the internet to the backend system of Compare the Market. In the backend system, Compare the Market will have an API integration with a wide range of Car insurance providers, this integration involves sending the request (an object containing all the data) to an Endpoint (In this case multiple different car insurance endpoints). The car insurance provider will take the request and query all the details you have entered in the form against the parameters within their service database.
If the insurance provider has been able to calculate an insurance quote for you, it will send Compare the Market a response (a return of data based on the request) which contains all the details of your insurance quote. This is then made all pretty onto the front end of the website to be styled and formatted to match the layout of the website. You will notice, as a customer on the website, as the quotes are being returned there is a message to let you know they are looking for the best quote for you. In reality, what is actually happening is that Compare the Market are waiting for a response back from each of the Insurance Providers’ API’s and, as they get returned, that provider gets displayed on the website. If a provider is not being displayed most likely their systems have returned an error message within the response causing it not to qualify to be displayed on the frontend.
If you’ve ever been a bit naughty and gone back to the application form and changed some details around to get a cheaper quote i.e changing the policyholder or changing your excess etc - you’ll notice that on the second time due to the data you’ve amended this has changed the prices and providers because the data that the car insurance providers queried in their systems was different.
In this scenario Compare the Market will have an API Integration with over 30 different Insurance Providers to allow a good range of insurance providers to be compared, which, as obvious as it sounds, means Compare The Market are able to achieve their business goal without having to actually do all the work to mimic, or create, their own insurance providers. The Insurance Providers do the hard work to create API versions of their systems and the easy part is integrating that into your platform which you can then resell at a cost/commission.
So now we come down to the decision making, do I create an API or should I integrate an API?
When it comes to creating an API there are some things to factor in, firstly when you create anything in business it's not about taking part it's about taking over so you must consider - can you do it better than your current competitors and how far can you push yourself ahead of the market. My number one rule in all areas of business is, where possible, build to lead, never to follow. The worst position you can ever be in is to play catch up as you’ll always stay one foot behind in the market. If you have a great product/service/platform think how can you make something great, greater - is it possible to extend yourself as a business via an API to reach more users? For example, Whatsapp, the most popular instant messaging third party application for web and desktop, has recently launched Whatsapp API for Business which allows you to integrate all the well-known features to use within your own platform so you can easily reach your customers. Some companies have started to adopt this as their main form of contact for Support.
On the other end of the scale is integrating an API - I usually refer to the term “If you can’t beat them, join them”. There is no harm or shame in offering a service or building a platform/system based on reselling other companies’ data. Companies spend a lot of time and money and developing their systems/platforms and databases for industries in which they specialise in - they technically do the hard work so you don’t have to. You are able to add value to your products/services just by integrating API services from well-known industry leaders. Going back to my scenario above, if you wanted a used car calculation functionality in your system, rather than spend time contacting each Lender to discuss how to implement their calculation engine into your system, you may opt to just integrate via APIs by a provider who offers Used and New car finance quotations with 20 lenders or more - not only does that provide you with the opportunity to build relationships with well known brands but you also gain access to real-time data. The responsibility of maintenance and upkeep of the service falls with your service provider to ensure the data/service is always up to date again leveraging any changes or development to stay with the service provider and not you.
If you’ve managed to get to this far then I applaud you and thank you for taking time out to read my blog post on the things I enjoy doing the most at work - APIs.
APIs are a thing of the future and are now being created and integrated more and more as time goes on. It’s definitely recommended to assess your business/company and reach out to the providers that can help you reach your business goals. Where possible, think differently and take the risk to stand out - cause some chaos in the industry you work in and I guarantee you others will follow.