What is API integration? The technical definition is long and pretty much useless. It’s best to draw an analogy. If you think about a digital enterprise as the human body, with each part as a functioning unit – hands as CRM, brain as the ERP – then APIs are the arteries and veins through which flows the data to those systems. They are the “connectivity tissue” that makes everything run.
To do pretty much anything in this digital world – from placing an order on an ecommerce site to submitting a homework assignment to making an airline reservation – you must leverage application programming interfaces (APIs).
API integration is simply the act of connecting disparate databases, devices and applications, but its effect is profound: API integration enables digital transformation.
To deliver the business agility needed for digital transformation initiatives and new business opportunities, organizations need technical (system and process) agility. What is holding them back? Large, monolithic, expensive, brittle and isolated on-premises ERP, HCM, SCM and CRM applications.
Application sprawl requires more than point-to-point API integration
Given line-of-business managers can deploy a new application with the swipe of a credit card, new apps are finding their way into organizations at unprecedented rates. In 1990, the average enterprise had only 5 to 10 different enterprise apps. Today, the average enterprise uses nearly 1,200 cloud apps! 
APIs tie together those disparate applications and business processes, breaking down organizational and application silos that lead to poor customer experiences. Hence, the reason 94% of global enterprises have a strategy to use APIs today .
The problem? Too many organizations take an API-only approach.
Some organizations simply make existing applications cloud-compatible by slapping APIs on legacy applications and calling it a day. Although this is the easiest route for getting applications in production use, these “cloudwashed” applications are difficult to scale. APIs are necessary, but not the whole answer.
Application modernization generally means refactoring and breaking down big, heavy monolithic applications into a collection of small, loosely coupled microservices developed expressly for the cloud. Organizations are beginning to realize this, which is why experts predict that 500 million cloud-native applications will be developed by 2023 .
The need for iPaaS
Most global enterprises have turned to a comprehensive integration platform as a service (iPaaS) to provide all the functionality needed in a single platform. iPaaS goes beyond API creation and management to enable data set processing, event processing, reliable data distribution in different forms and latencies, as well as a data hub and process integration and automation, and more.
Support for all three types of API integration
Most iPaaS solutions support three types of APIs.
Most commonly, the typical application-to-application use case is where data must move in real time (or near real-time) to support a critical application use case. Another common use case is support for bulk data and data manipulation. Lastly, some vendors enable long-running business processes behind an API call, so that human interaction can intercede on an application workflow (e.g., a manager approving an expense report).
8 must-have capabilities to build into your API integration strategy
As you develop your API integration strategy, here are the essential capabilities you need to consider:
API integration capability #1: Comprehensive API development and design
To develop your APIs, you must choose an API type, plan your API capabilities, design your methods and implement a standard response format such as XML or JSON. Your clients can consume and orchestrate a variety of application and data services that you expose as composite APIs. Incorporate REST, SOAP, Java, SQL, and Stored Procedures, message queuing and pub/sub systems, and a variety of other on-premises and cloud applications and services.
API integration capability #2: “It just works” API introspection
The APIs you define should be self-descriptive using industry standards like REST Swagger (OpenAPI) and SOAP/WSDL. There’s no need to create interface documents; they should be generated automatically.
API integration capability #3: “Try it” through an API portal
Many vendors have a concept of the API portal, which is a “marketplace” that can be used by consumer developers to access and use APIs. These portals offer “try it” API testing capability, which enables the application developer to quickly try out an API before using it in an application. The swagger viewer makes it easy for back-end implementation and client-side consumption. The analytics dashboard provides the API consumer with its usage trend over time and most-used APIs.
API integration capability #4: API monitoring
API monitoring should provide comprehensive security and exception logging. API administrators can quickly identify and analyze unauthorized API access attempts and policy exceptions.
API integration capability #5: Analytics
APIs churn out a ton of analytics – everything from success/failures to usage reporting to trend analysis. Look for solutions that have customizable graphical analytics tools and are easy enough for anyone in the organization to consume.
API integration capability #6: Easy discovery and access through self-service
The APIs you publish need to be automatically registered to the API registry. This makes them easy for you to manage – and easy for others to discover and access. One click is all you need to expose these APIs and start monitoring usage by your applications and partners.
API integration capability #7: API gateway
Use an API gateway to deploy, activate and secure APIs, both within the organization and with your partners. The API gateway secures and controls access to APIs by applying policies such as rate limiting and IP filtering.
API integration capability #8: API manager
As the name denotes, API administrators and developers use an API manager to manage and monitor APIs. Its functions typically include:
- Exposing service APIs
- API lifecycle management, including activating, deactivating and deleting APIs
- API description
- API policies
- API usage analytics, logging and security exception monitoring
- Applying organization-wide rate-limiting and IP-filtering policies and specifying rate-limiting policies to each API
- Customizing the default API URL, assigning IP filtering to APIs, better managing APIs with version control and shortening response times with API caching
Our take: Make your APIs do more for you
At Informatica, we have three principles that guide our API integration tools:
1. Democratization of APIs
Key to productivity and rapid agility is leveraging the entire panoply of skills in the organization: You must enable far more than the elite Java-class developers in the process of building, deploying, managing and monitoring APIs.
Tools like Informatica solutions for application and API integration offer no-code, no-build UX to empower the entire organization – from integration architects to data stewards to non-technical business users – in the process of building, assembling, monitoring and maintaining integrations and APIs. This game-changing functionality – data, application and orchestration APIs with a simple point and click – frees organizations from depending on the availability of consultants and overloaded IT teams.
2. Advanced data access to any data, any pattern, any latency
You should be able to orchestrate, ingest, synchronize, replicate, transform, and lift and shift any data, residing anywhere (be it cloud or on-premises, inside or outside your firewall), at any speed, with any specified latency, in real time – all with an API call. Access to your APIs is controlled, throttled and monitored.
Simply put, you can create your data as an API in a secure, well-managed manner.
3. AI-enabled metadata discovery
Data comes from anywhere and too often without description. Using the AI/machine learning-powered CLAIRE engine built into API Manager, you can automatically discover and describe your data for usage in various integration scenarios.
Whether you are processing large bulk data sets, exposing or making API calls, or initiating mass ingestion of data, without being able to describe the data, tools cannot effectively work for you. CLAIRE-based metadata discovery gives your teams the intelligence they need to understand and capture the value of your data, providing capabilities unsurpassed by any other vendor.
Some vendors require an army of high-skilled, high-priced developers to create and manage your APIs. Others are great at simple use cases, but fail when the situation gets a little complicated. Only Informatica offers the Intelligent Data Management Cloud—a single, comprehensive and cloud-native platform that provides the breadth and depth of products with the simplicity, productivity and scale you need to succeed with API integration.
API integration success story: nCino reduces loan processing time by 34%
nCino serves many different financial institutions and must pull data from a wide variety of core banking and transactional systems – all running on different IT platforms. Every night, nCino processes batch loads of loan information from these customer systems to refresh data in the nCino application. Data comes in many different formats and structures: spreadsheets, databases, XML files and unstructured data extracts. Every time nCino onboards a new customer, it can expect a different scenario.
In just one year of using Informatica, nCino doubled its customer base and saved significant levels of both time human resources in data integration costs. nCino also reduced the time it takes to onboard a new customer’s data from weeks to days, enabling faster growth.
“Informatica Intelligent Cloud Services help us integrate customer data faster and improve our banks’ operational efficiency, enabling them to reduce their loan origination and closing times by an average of 34 percent,” says Mark Wood, executive director of data integration services, nCino.
Support business growth with API integration
To accelerate growth and create excellent customer experiences, you need to embrace API integration. In this post, we have discussed several approaches to API Integration and highlighted eight capabilities you should seek when developing your API integration strategy.
Need a place to start? Try API integration and management for free.
 IDC FutureScape, Oct. 2019