What is an API?
API stands for application programming interface, which is a set of predefined methods of communication between various software components. In layman’s terms, it acts as a kind of middleman allowing one application to interact with another application. But why is it needed?
Some applications can be extended by using pieces of software called plugins or extensions. As one example, ClickDimensions marketing software can be integrated into Microsoft Dynamics CRM to allow you to use both applications as if they were one single application. By not switching between different applications you save time and reduce the chance for errors. But not every application can be fitted together in this way…
The good old days
In the mid-1990’s, I was working for a company that monitored bankruptcies and notified our clients if one of their customers was subject to bankruptcy proceedings. Our data was stored on an aging DataEase server and contained records of every single corporate and personal bankruptcy that was filed anywhere in the country.
Our clients, who were mainly banks and financial organizations, used a variety of different databases to store their data and most of them couldn’t understand DataEase. In order to cross-match their data with ours, we had two choices: a) send them every record we had in CSV format, or b) have them send us their records in CSV format. Understandably, many of our clients wouldn’t release their records for privacy reasons, leaving them unable to use our service.
To get around the problem, I built an application that they could use in-house. The application used their field names, formats and field-types and allowed then to import their clients. A separate part of the application took our data, converted it to the same format as theirs, then stored it in a separate table, allowing the system to cross-match and spew out a list of their clients who were facing bankruptcy. What we really needed was an API.
Talk to me
To get applications to be able to communicate with each other involves two basic steps. The application that wants to access another does so by a process known as ‘making an API call’, and the responding application send a ‘response’. The actual way in which they work is complex and requires an understanding of programming, but let’s looks at how it might have worked with the bankruptcies.
By using an API, we could have let the two applications talk to each other and wouldn’t have needed the middle step of converting the data. If you were able to see the conversation between the two applications, it would have looked something like this:
Bank: Hi Data.
Data: Hi. Who’s that?
Bank: It’s Bank.
Data: Hi Bank. How can I help?
Bank: Are there any bankruptcies listed against John Doe of 123 Any St., Thisoletown, 12345?
Data: Yup. Chapter 11 filed in Thisoletown District Court on April 17, 2017.
Bank: Yikes! Thanks for your help. Bye.
Data: Any time. Bye.
So much easier and quicker. But how does that relate to data quality?
Records, records everywhere and ne’er a way to sync
Most modern organizations have data stored in various systems. CRM, marketing, vendor and procurement systems; product databases, …and the list goes on. If you’re planning a direct mail campaign you want to be sure your records are clean and up to date – and your addresses are verified – before you create your campaign.
Without an API, you’re going to have to export the relevant records from the various systems, import them into your DQM tool, clean, match, and verify addresses, then re-import them into your marketing system.
With an API, you can do all the cleaning, matching and address verification without ever leaving your marketing system. It lets your DQM tool ‘talks’ directly with multiple data sources to find all the associated records. It can also make any changes to the data automatically, saving you time and money, and reducing the chances of errors creeping in.
DataMatch Enterprise API
DataMatch Enterprise comes with an API to allow you to achieve all the cleaning, matching and address validation you need without leaving your main system. Via the API, your system can make calls to DataMatch Enterprise in much the same way as the Bank and the Data in the above example and always present you with clean, accurate data.