It is no secret that API’s have become the way that organizations expose their services or data, and talk to each other. An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of protocols for building software applications. An API specifies how software platforms and components can and should interact. Essentially, the API establishes a set of “contracts” available to a programmer that specifies what services the API provides. A programmer that uses an API is said to be “consuming” it. When that happens, the programmer “calls” the API with the required inputs, which triggers the API call to perform some service and provide an output back to the caller (if appropriate). There are different types of API’s available. Some are private to a company and consumed internally, others are public. The ProgrammableWeb site has a searchable index of almost 18,000 available API’s covering every imaginable type of service.
The real power of API’s is in facilitating the conversation between separate systems or platforms. Instead of having to understand the internals of each system, a programmer only has to understand and have access to the API for the system they would like to interact with. The process of connecting systems together through API’s can be time-consuming. Large enterprise systems, such as an eCommerce platform, will often require integration with multiple external API’s: a payment platform, a shipping platform, an inventory platform, a content management system. Hooking up all of those API’s can be a daunting task. That type of orchestration requires careful planning over a large time period. Software architects and programmers became convinced there was a better way to quickly interface disparate systems, using connectors.
Platform vendors have created mechanisms which allow external agencies to extend the capabilities of their platform through connectors that live and operate within the platform. People use different names for these components – connectors, plugins, extenders. Regardless of the name, the end result is the same. In the context of these platforms, the connector is a software module which does the API connection between two or more systems, hiding the complexity within the connector. The connector is installed within the platform and configured through various software switches which establishes the links. The advantages of this approach are huge:
- A connector is written once and reused multiple times
- A vendor can control access to their API through the connector
- A platform can host multiple connectors simultaneously, stitching together disparate systems
- A connector can be updated without requiring an update to other connectors or the platform itself
- A connector will get the client to market much faster than custom API integration development
This extensible platform approach has allowed for the creation of marketplaces for almost all of the major platforms. In the eCommerce space, the vendors with the largest market share rely on and welcome connectors because it makes their platform attractive to different clients and client segments. The following list of eCommerce platform markets shows the depth and breadth of available plugins / connectors covering marketing, sales, payments, inventory, shipping, social networks, and much more.
For a 3rd-party software vendor with growth aspirations, it is imperative to provide connectors in each of the marketplaces they feel is relevant to their business strategy. Being in the marketplace gives broad exposure to potential customers. It provides inroads to interested parties that would not be easily available without large marketing spend. It facilitates much faster time-to-market for customers. Of course, the installation, configuration, and implementation of a connector itself provides opportunities for the software vendor to add value, which could lead to future collaboration prospects.
In the context of enterprise platforms, connectors join together systems via API’s, hiding the complexity within the connector. Connectors make it easier for platform clients to the wire together multiple systems quickly and without having to know the inner workings of the API’s in question. Platform vendors have realized the power of these connectors. They have actively cultivated marketplaces where these connectors can be discovered, downloaded, configured, tested, and compared. This approach has now become commonplace for all platform vendors.
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