How to Leverage Software Vendors by Understanding Open APIs

It can be hard in the software world to separate marketing from actual capabilities.  One area that’s particularly hard as you investigate new software solutions, or consider whether your existing vendors are living up to their promises, can be around integrations.

We hear the term all the time: We need Open APIs. What does that really mean? What does it not mean? First, a primer. Then, three questions to ask your vendors.

What is an API?

An API stands for an “Application Programmable Interface.” Like a UI, or “User Interface,” which is the experience that we as users of software experience in our web browser or on our mobile phone, the API is how one piece of software interacts with another. Open APIs in high-quality modern SaaS software will be REST-based, which is a standard that is lightweight and flexible.

What does an API not give you?

An API does not mean that software X can talk to software Y. For that, you need an “integration.” This means that special software has been built that access the APIs of both X and Y, and has figured out how to translate or  configure all of that data to work together. 

Imagine you’re eating in a restaurant. Customers aren’t able to access the kitchen to see what type of food is available. The menu offers what you can ask for in the kitchen from the API, which in this case, is the waiter. REST APIs serve as a way for consumers to access data without the risk of obtaining sensitive information on your servers. 

Real-time APIs upload data more frequently and can offer consumers immediate notifications. For example, like when and where your bus is going to arrive. Both of these are important to think about when utilizing applications because APIs are becoming monetized. This means premium SaaS customers will pay for API access if not provided in its core offering which you should be wary of doing.

Three Key Questions to Ask Software Vendors

1. If you have truly open APIs, can I see them?

Ask your software vendors to show you their API documentation if they say they have Open APIs. Don’t let them wiggle out of it and say, “Who is your tech guy, can we talk with them?” Ask to see them. They should be publically available, or accessible online when provided a login.

Make sure your service order specifies you have Open API access, and that your team will be provided with the appropriate endpoints and API keys upon launch. If you really want to push the envelope, ask for a demo during the sales process, or for existing software, in your next meeting or Quarterly Business Review (QBR).

2. What is your API roadmap?

Make sure to have a conversation around where your software vendor is planning to take their API and integrations. Do they have a roadmap? Can they show it to you? As a customer, it’s critical you understand not only what a product offers today, but an understanding of where your SaaS products are headed. Is there alignment? Do they know? What is their roadmap track record? A good SaaS product provides complete transparency along with those who operate the platform.

3. Can you support an integration with X?

This is really the test. For a software vendor to have an integration, both software companies need to have Open APIs, or they need to have a special partnership where they access each other’s systems using proprietary methods.

By selecting software that doesn’t have true Open APIs, you end up being in a situation that limits your other software choices. 

Don’t Accept Less Than Open API’s 

 If a vendor can’t show you how their software uses your data to be translated between systems of your choice, then don’t justify buying it. This will save your company from all kinds of pain points down the line by asking the right questions first.

Interested in Shiftgig’s Open APIs? 

We have several open APIs that are available to your organization and we are always adding more to our library! 

  • Workers API – Quickly import worker data to create profiles
  • Companies API – Client information flows in to easily set up their account
  • Timesheets APIAll payroll and billing information (pay/bill rates, hours, stipends) efficiently exports to your back office system
  • Skills API – Add, delete, and update the skill tags for your workers individually or in bulk

Are you ready to see Deploy in action and take our APIs for a spin in your environment? 

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About The Author

Rick is the CEO of Shiftgig, responsible for driving our innovation and strategy to transform the way people work. Rick has deep experience in consumer-facing product technology, having previously served as Shiftgig’s CTO, Morningstar’s Chief Software Officer, and HelloWallet’s Senior Vice President of engineering. Outside of work, he serves on the board of directors of TechForward, the philanthropic foundation of the Illinois Technology Association.