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What is an API-First Approach? | Tech Terms to Know

December 11, 2020

Category: Headless eCommerce

In the modern technology world, APIs are one of the most well known and widely used terms. The term has become commonplace and is used extensively by software companies when describing an application and in documentation. 

In order to understand what API-first architecture is, and the benefits it provides, you must first understand what an API is. 

What is an API? 

An Application Programming Interface, or API for short, is a set of functions that allows an application to interact with external applications, operating systems, microservices or data. In other words, APIs allow applications to “talk to” and interact with one another. 

For example, when a customer places an order on a B2B eCommerce site, you want customer data to sync automatically with your separate CRM solution or you want your billing information to automatically flow into your financial system. APIs provide contracts for different software to interact automatically on your behalf while creating an economy for you to select your best of breed vendors and removing vendor lock-in. 

This API economy is important for your own commerce strategy in order to expand your ability to integrate with new markets and business solutions in the future.  While the trend continues, Layer7 technologies published analysis that:

  • Over 80% of organizations will have an API program or strategy in place
  • Close to 70% are driven by the need to improve partner connectivity
  • 55% of forward looking businesses are fostering an external innovation with APIs

Not only do APIs simplify application development, but provide opportunities for innovation. Being a part of the API economy is essential for long term success for a business. APIs establish a business’s ability to participate and drive into new channels of revenue, connect to tools that produce operational efficiencies, and streamline how they engage with partners. 

What is an API-First Approach?

Most software you use today is all cloud-based and accessed through your browser, it’s a packaged experience or solution you purchase and use.

Often software companies add APIs on top of their platform. This can help in areas of automation or integration and allows you to access some of the underlying functionality of the software but not all of it.

An API-First approach, on the other hand, flips this paradigm on its head. API-first development puts APIs at the foundation, instead of pre-built or opinionated software solutions or experiences. API-first development ensures that ALL of the functionality inside the platform is accessible to you through the API(s).

An API-first approach offers two primary benefits:

  1. The ability to compose and extend the solution or experience you need to build; catered to the needs of both you and your customers.
  2. The assurance of longevity, in that a month or two years from now, if you need to build or integrate into other solutions, the API foundation is there for you to control as a constant.

Why has the API-first approach grown in popularity?

The API-first approach grew in popularity as the adoption of omnichannel accelerated. There have never been more ways to interact with an application; the web, mobile, connected devices, and more. This approach allows a business to deliver applications that not only operate in any channel but can scale as more channels are added without having to create new solutions for each of those channels. 

As one of the cornerstones of MACH technology, developing a commerce solution on an API-first platform offers complete access to the platform’s core capabilities, and the flexibility to customize to your heart’s content. An API-first approach to eCommerce gives a business greater control over the commerce experience, as well as the ability to build a best of breed technology stack that will keep your business running today and in the future. API-first platforms give enterprises the edge over their competitors by providing more flexibility, scalability, and control.

Download the Four51 OrderCloud Feature Guide to learn more.

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