When you use a third-party app to post something to your Facebook or Twitter account, it doesn’t happen by magic. Application programming interfaces (API) run in the background to bridge the app on your phone to the servers that run your social media of choice.

In a world that runs increasingly on digital information, APIs have become a big deal - and not just for posting to Farmville from your iPhone. More businesses are realizing the value of custom APIs at the enterprise level for a workforce that’s getting more mobile by the minute.

APIs Do a Few Key Things

An API is a set of codes containing instructions or requirements that let different applications talk to each other. Traditionally, APIs on a desktop enable you to share information between programs like Word and Excel, or let programs access features of the operating system, like Windows Installer.

But the most recent use of APIs - and the one everybody’s talking about - is in Web applications. Web APIs perform the same functions as their desktop counterparts, only they plug third-party software into Internet-based services like social media networks, Amazon accounts and cloud dashboards.

API management employs tools that manage access (for both developers and end users) to the data and functionality of the Internet-based services the apps are supposed to work with. From the developer sign-up process, to documentation, to the credentials issued to authorized users, API management hands out the right keys that open the information doors between programs.

And This Is How Companies Use Them

Connectivity is essential for any company working with today’s digital marketing landscape. Basically, APIs represent a new distribution channel for businesses, opening the doors for third-party apps that tie into their main offerings. These sets of code can help companies reach new markets, generate additional revenue streams, and onboard new partners, such as developers and complementary services.

API management software lets businesses take control of the distribution process. Some of the features this type of software uses include:
  • Portal building to allow developer discovery and collaboration on third-party apps
  • Process management tools for API planning, design and development
  • Reporting and analytics for a better understanding of API use
  • Secure API hosting and mediation

Why API Management Matters Now

Entire companies have been built around API management - Apigee, SOA Software, Mashery, Layer 7 Technologies, ProgrammableWeb and Mashape, to name just a few. Recently, big companies have taken interest in these companies in a big way. In fact, in 2013, many of these companies are being gobbled up by bigger players.

Why are corporations investing in API management vendors? There are a few good reasons. One is that today’s consumer is extremely likely to own and use multiple devices. In fact, there are now more Internet-connected gadgets in the United States than there are people, and the people who use them have come to expect the connectivity that APIs provide.

Another reason is simply business. Most companies are invested in a high degree of connectivity, both through their internal infrastructures and various mobile devices. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement is in full swing, and tech research firm Gartner projects that by 2017, 50 percent of employers will make BYOD mandatory. With a multitude of devices and a variety of operating systems, APIs allow businesses to keep their employees communicating with the company database, without a massive IT investment.

The Way of the Future?

API management ensures that connections remain fluid between programs, without overburdening servers, misrouting information, or granting access to the wrong parties. If there is a "way of the future," many of the paths lead to API management. (For developer tips on how to build an API, check out 5 Steps to Creating a Successful API.)