SaaS: The importance of providing an API.

One of the key learnings that has come out of the whole Web 2.0 experiment (can we still call it an experiment?) is that organisations building solutions to be comsumed across the Internet have realised that they need to expose an API.

Once upon a time organisations would fear exposing entry points into their applications because this could lead to users exploiting their system in unpredictable ways. These days we build the API and pray that people will do just that.

The reason is that rather than create an undesirable problem, exposing an API encourages users to create “stick” to your solution because you provide them the level of integration they require to make your system more useful. In a world where we are trying to do more with less, having an API means that you can eliminate that manual data entry/integration task.

Some recent examples that I’ve seen are:

  1. Saasu. Saasu is an online accounting system which exposes an API called “Connect”. I already know of one individual (happens to also work at Readify) who is using it with one of their businesses. One of the things that I like aobut Saasu is that it is build on my platform of choice (.NET) but can basically be used by anything with an XML parser and a TCP/IP stack.
  2. GoGrid. GoGrid is a SaaS orientated hosting company that can dynamically provision servers in about fifteen minutes. GoGrid provides an API which allows you to provision servers from your own code.
  3. EC2. I’ve blogged about EC2 before, and during my talk at SBTUG I demonstrated a few PowerShell Cmdlets which assist with the provisioning of an EC2 instance. I think the differences between EC2 and GoGrid are that EC2 has a more complex API (so I like GoGrid for that), but EC2 is a bit cheaper. Amazon is also providing a more complete range of platform services.

We all know however that the number of applications out there providing an API are virtually unlimited, but these ones are interesting because they are squarely targeted at the business space.

Nothing is new about providing APIs in applications, what is new that it is becoming a key factor in decision making.

2 thoughts on “SaaS: The importance of providing an API.

  1. Josh

    Providing an API changes the equation, from a single service to an opportunity for a whole ecosystem of applications based around the service. I think this is one of the reasons Google is still the leader — all the services they provide APIs for, for free (Google Maps anyone?). They have “out-opened” the competition. Providing the developers the chance to build around your system increases its reach dramatically, and new SaaS these days would be silly not to embrace that opportunity.

  2. Duane Jackson

    I agree 100%. An API is essential. We provide an API for our accounting software at http://api.kashflow.co.uk.

    It also needs to be free. We initially made the mistake of charging an additional fee for access to the API. I don’t even want to think abut how much this held back development of third-party applications and integration.

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