Third-Party API Integration for Websites and Internal Corporate Systems
Integrating various software systems with one another is a crucial skill for any robust development team in today’s technological landscape. Third-party API (Application Programming Interface) integrations are a common component in web development projects, regardless of their scale. Smaller projects may require just 2-3 integrations, while larger, more sophisticated software products may necessitate dozens or even hundreds of third-party API integrations. The complexity of these solutions can vary greatly, ranging from simple social network API integration, such as connecting the Facebook API for login purposes, to intricate systems that merge the functionalities of numerous programs for accounting, inventory management, logistics, and more.
In this article, I will discuss the process of implementing third-party API integrations and the technologies best suited for this purpose. I will also examine risk management strategies associated with such integrations. Additionally, you will receive practical insights based on our experience in providing third-party API integration services.
When and Why is Third-Party API Integration Necessary?
Third-party API integration is essential for enhancing the functionality of custom and third-party software systems used daily by companies and their customers. By incorporating third-party software solutions, businesses can improve their services and boost profitability without needing to develop additional features themselves. Often, the driving force behind integration is the need to conduct data transfer between company departments and partners, ensuring the necessary information is available to all parties, but such integration across systems needs to be seamless, enabling fast and secure data exchange.
The process of third-party API integration is usually quite complex. Each company has a unique set of IT systems that require integration, with each system needing its own integration workflow. Ideally, the developer of the out-of-the-box program or web service provider will have already created integration tools, including an API for programmers, accompanied by comprehensive documentation. However, this is not always the case, and at SECL Group, we have had plenty of experience dealing with custom API development and integration on systems where we’ve had to start from scratch.
The scope of integration solutions can vary greatly, depending on client needs. For example, consider the integration of a company’s accounting software with its online store. One option is to simply ensure that an invoice is sent to the client from the internal accounting system. Alternatively, a more comprehensive integration can display the actual balance of goods, generate different markups for various customer types, apply discounts, and transfer payment data to the warehouse for order fulfillment. This type of third-party API integration can significantly enhance the customer experience.
As a rule, third-party software integration is necessary for all modern companies, and the larger and more diversified the company, the more integrations it requires. A typical company uses many different IT systems, often dozens of them, with each system designed for individual business processes or even entire divisions or departments. (By the way, in previous articles, we have discussed a variety of automated systems in companies, using retail as an example in one particular case, to illustrate the importance and complexity of these integrations).
For example, a finance department might use the Xero accounting platform. Simultaneously, this business unit may also use online banking from different banks, various payment systems, electronic money, an analytical module, and numerous other programs. All these elements need to be interconnected with one another and then connected with other departments of the company, often requiring automation. This is just one example of a single unit, and even a small company may have 5-10 such units.
In any case, a company is a single organism, where one department cannot work without another, and the output of one business process becomes input for another. This is why third-party API integration of separate IT systems with each other is essential, as it allows for the linking of all the software used by the company into a unified mechanism.
How does Third-Party API Integration work?
There are two main approaches for third-Party API Integration: either by connecting each system individually with others or by establishing a common intermediary system where all other systems direct their data. In the case of large companies with a large volume of data, the first approach is often preferable. Otherwise, the unified system may become overloaded with information, leading to instability. For smaller companies, a connection hub can effectively serve this purpose.
To illustrate the decision-making process behind third-party API integration, consider the case of our work with the Kia automotive corporation, which employs over fifty thousand people. We are responsible for developing several IT systems for Kia, including a dealer management system used by several thousand dealers who sell approximately three million cars annually across multiple countries. Naturally, the data volume involved is enormous! This single IT system has dozens of integrations and processes more than ten million requests daily, and is just one of many IT systems within what is a truly global corporation.
Given the scale of operations, direct integration of the company’s different IT systems was the optimal solution. But remember that even integrations like this, which typically link just two systems, is a complex process that can span several months. For example, in our work on this at Kia, the terms of reference outlining the requirements for integrating the dealer management system with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system comprised over 80 A4 pages. This document was necessary to detail all the intricacies of this integration.
However, don’t be daunted; this example represents one of the most challenging integrations we’ve undertaken. If the proposed integration’s scope is more modest and less complex, the process could take mere days or even hours.
Workflow and Technologies for Third-Party API Integration
APIs enable software systems to interact, facilitating processes such as request handling and data exchange. As a rule, standard off-the-shelf software comes with its own API, facilitating integration. For custom software, it’s always possible to develop an API that communicates with other IT systems owned by the company, as well as those of its partners or customers. The infographic below illustrates the current trends among developers.
As you can see, approximately 90% of developers, and consequently their clients, utilize APIs in their projects. Third-party integration via APIs is the preferred method, and the number of such solutions is growing constantly, with tens of thousands of public APIs currently available. Some sources even report over 24,000 third-party APIs.
What, then, is the typical workflow for third-party API integration?
- Choosing a third-party solution for integration. The first consideration is usually the functionality of the third-party software. It should augment your product, eliminating the need to develop certain features in-house. The popularity of use of any third-party tool is also a factor, as user preferences and habits should be taken into account. It’s also important to understand the terms under which the owner of the third-party solution permits integration. Upon selection of a third-party solution based on its marketing appeal, functionality, and usability, the focus can shift to technical aspects. In fact, with such products often having comparable functionality, it’s ease of integration that often becomes the deciding factor. Ensure the external system has an API, and that comprehensive documentation for it is available. Quality API documentation provides detailed information about query formatting and response handling. Bear in mind that the parameters of a third-party system can impact user perception of your product from the moment it is integrated. It is therefore desirable to evaluate the performance, reliability, and stability of the API during the selection process. Studies show that performance, security, reliability, and documentation are the key factors companies consider when opting for third-party API integration. The primary characteristics assessed prior to third-party API integration are depicted in the following infographic:
- Preparation for third-party API integration. At the second stage of third-party API integration, studying the selected API’s documentation and, if necessary, contacting the vendor are crucial steps. Tasks may include authentication, registration, account or project creation, and obtaining an API key.
- Practical integration of a third-party system into your IT product using API. As mentioned earlier, the complexity of such integration largely depends on the API, the extent and depth of integration required, and the customer’s requirements for interfacing their system with an external solution. Therefore, integrations can vary significantly. Some are straightforward, while others may demand substantial effort from specialists.
Which technologies should be used for third-party API integration? Well, provided the API is well-designed and tested, the choice of other technologies is less crucial.
Integration can be achieved using a microservice written in any programming language or framework, be it Python/Django, JS/Node.js, or PHP/Laravel. I advise you to use the languages and frameworks that are primarily used in your project, ensuring the entire system can be supported by one team in the future.
Our team frequently develops projects in Python, JS, and PHP. We often receive client requests for third-party API integration in Node.js or how to use third-party API in React applications. We typically go beyond the initial requests of our clients to modify as needed.
The proper sequence of actions is, first, to understand the requirements, then to learn about the API intended for integration, and only then select technologies. Technology selection is often the least challenging aspect.
At times, an intermediate service may need to be developed in a programming language different from those of the integrated systems. This kind of auxiliary service accumulates data before transferring it, a model particularly suited for enhancing application security, as is often seen in the banking sector.
Remember that if your product requires third-party integrations, you can contact us for advice.
Challenges and Risks Associated with Third-Party API Integration
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that not all IT systems possess APIs, and those that do may lack comprehensive documentation, which is a prevalent problem. Beyond this, several other challenges may arise:
- Understanding the Capabilities and Limitations of the API. To define the correct requirements for integration, you must thoroughly understand the capabilities and limitations of the API. Often, the best team for this job isn’t your current project contractor, but an external team with significant experience in integrations and familiarity with the API in question.
- Managing Requirements. Dealing with requirements presents a considerable hurdle when integrating third-party software. Assembling all the requirements can be particularly challenging in large projects and companies with numerous responsible managers, and no single individual typically possesses complete knowledge of any system’s operation. Each person, within their area of expertise, contributes a piece of the overall puzzle. Assembling this complete picture requires gathering and synthesizing information from employees across various departments, each with differing responsibilities—an invariably complex task.
- Access and Permissions. This issue is especially relevant in large companies. For instance, to share information between two departments might necessitate approval from the CIO, CTO, and occasionally, even the CEO. This concern ties closely to the previous one, as gathering requirements for integration is impossible without having the necessary access and permissions, as you might overlook something crucial.
- Data security. In every case, Third-party API integration should be fundamentally based on security principles from the outset. But particularly when discussing the exchange of data that has commercial value, security becomes an absolute top priority. Any careless action can compromise data protection. You must act diligently to avoid breaking data protection. I recall an incident where a client approached us to integrate two systems in such a way that one of them would enter data directly into the database of the other. My team and I still remember this, as anyone with even a basic understanding of security knows that this is not a safe approach. We advised as such. A developer’s proficiency is often demonstrated in how they handle security concerns. A recent report revealed that 91% of companies surveyed experienced an API security incident, emphasizing the importance of addressing security issues when using APIs. It is important to understand that most integrations occur on servers, i.e. within environments isolated from external access. However, for large companies and projects, this alone may not offer sufficient protections. For instance, in some of our projects, we have employed advanced measures such as protected DMZ subnets, IP filtering, encryption, and other measures. In summary, when implementing a large-scale project for a corporation, it is crucial not only to safeguard information from external access but also to adhere to internal rules for access rights segregation, which determines each employee’s access level to information. Consequently, the choice of data protection methods with third-party API integration depends very much on the project size. Two-factor authorization to access the server may suffice for smaller projects, while larger ones may require a more comprehensive set of security measures.
- Managing the Complexity of Integration Projects. Programmers can also face challenges with API integration solutions. Typically, each system set for integration has a dedicated development team, which necessitates gathering representatives from two or more project teams into a single group for effective integration. Projects are also complicated by the absence of essential integration tools, having outdated software documentation, as well as navigating any additional security regulations for each system. All of this can make it difficult for developers to complete tasks.
- Lastly, not only is implementing an integration solution difficult, but testing it also presents challenges. This is due to the need to access various systems and verify the success of the integration from the perspective of different user roles.
The bottom line is that any API third-party integration project can be complex, but is certainly manageable when executed properly. Frequently, the majority of the time is not consumed by coding but rather on communication between teams. As such, emphasis should be placed on effective coordination and efficient and purposeful exchange of information.
Popular Third-party APIs
There is a vast number of popular third-party APIs, numbering in the hundreds. While it’s impossible to list them all, I will highlight the ones we frequently encounter in our line of work.
- SAP API Integration: Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software houses vast amounts of company data. This type of integration prevents redundant data duplication and ensures the synchronized operation of various information systems.
- Salesforce API Integration: Sales, marketing, and customer service, unified through an integrated CRM platform, require intensive data exchange with users’ internal IT systems. This is where the benefit of Salesforce’s third-party integration comes in.
- PayPal API Integration: Payment gateways are essential for facilitating the sale of goods and services.
- Stripe API Integration: This is another financial solution on my list. Integrating with this software-as-a-service (SaaS) enhances user experience by simplifying the process of paying for goods and services.
- Xero API Integration: Not every company uses an ERP system, but most businesses employ accounting software. Xero is a popular choice in this regard, and Xero third-party integration with a company’s IT systems enables the efficient use of up-to-date data.
- Google Maps API Integration: Geolocation comes in handy in many web services. Implementing third-party APIs for Google Maps brings considerable benefits. By swiftly locating points of interest and creating convenient routes using the familiar Google Maps interface, users will have a favorable impression of your website or application.
- ActiveCampaign API Integration: This integration allows you to utilize customer experience automation (CXA) tools without the need to develop them in-house.
- Mailchimp API Integration: Email services are indispensable for both businesses and consumers. Third-party Mailchimp integration offers a user-friendly interface and easy customization of messages, including group communications.
- 2Checkout API Integration: This integration streamlines omnichannel operations for commercial companies by leveraging the capabilities of the monetization platform.
- Zendesk API Integration: Customer engagement-focused SaaS solutions are also on my list of in-demand integrations. In this case, we’re referring to access to sales functionality, customer support, and other customer communication tools.
- Zoho API Integration: This integration provides access to an entire suite of automated systems, including the popular CPM, which requires data exchange with other software in use by the company in question for proper functioning.
- Google Analytics API Integration: Developing an analytical module from scratch is costly and time-consuming. For newly built websites, it often doesn’t make sense to create such an automated system independently. However, web projects cannot progress without traffic analysis, user activity tracking, and other metrics. Therefore, it’s advisable to use ready-made tools like the Google Analytics third-party API.
- Google Search Console API Integration: This point echoes the previous one. A website’s popularity is heavily influenced by its search engine ranking. Monitoring, maintaining, and troubleshooting a website’s presence in Google Search results are crucial, so integration with Google Search Console aids in optimizing your web resource.
- Social Network API Integration: This is one of the most popular areas of integration. Consumers often prefer to avoid full sign-up processes on various platforms, opting to identify themselves using their favorite social networks instead. As a result, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Google/Apple log in API integration is relevant for many websites. Beyond simple login capabilities, deeper integrations are possible, such as accessing specific content, messaging other users, and more.
I’ve listed the most popular third-party APIs based on our company’s experience, but studies conducted among developers actively involved in integration paint a similar picture:
When predicting future trends, most industry practitioners agree that the demand for integrations related to location, payments, and communication will remain high. We can also expect an expansion of the range of integrations in the financial sector, such as third-party API integration in SWIFT.
Web API Development and Integration Services
So, what else is essential for successful third-party API integration? First and foremost, it’s worth noting that modern APIs are developed and maintained to a high standard. According to research, approximately 60% of users almost never experience API failures, and no more than 2% of users regularly face technical issues. On average, it’s estimated that any given developer utilizes 2.9 APIs. This data suggests that third-party API integration is a common component of many projects and is well-equipped with a good toolkit.
However, if you aim to significantly enrich your IT product’s functionality with third-party software systems, a more nuanced approach is required, likely needing deep custom integration. In some cases, a standard API may not be enough to meet your requirements, so you might have to use the full SDK (Software Development Kit) of certain platforms. Key to this kind of development is engaging a specialized company with the relevant experience of crafting such solutions.
What team do you need for third-party API integration? Given the highly technical scope of the task, programmers are the central members of the project team, but a full team may encompass a wider range of experts.
Initially, you must clearly define your business objectives and translate them into terms understandable to technical personnel. This is the responsibility of a business analyst, and in some cases, a UX/UI designer. Subsequently, coding is carried out, typically by experienced developers. Naturally, the resulting third-party integration solution must then be thoroughly tested.
In total, for third-party API integration, you might require the following professionals:
- Product Manager
- Business analyst
- UX / UI designer
- One to three backend developers
- Frontend developer
- QA Engineer.
In simpler projects, a backend programmer and tester may suffice.
Each project has its own set of IT systems with which to integrate, and remember that a developer will often only integrate with certain systems once or twice in their careers. Rest assured, at SECL Group, we have experience in integrating 200-300+ different platforms, and in this article, I’ve only mentioned a fraction of them.
What might cooperation look like in complex third-party integration cases? Suppose a client has a team developing a Salesforce-based project. They would prepare their data and configure Salesforce itself, while we take this data and integrate it into the web-based system we are developing for them, which plays to our specialties and strengths. We can not only receive data, but we can also send it back to Salesforce. Each team has its area of expertise, responsibilities, and strengths, contributing to the joint project. (Bear in mind that this is a simplified example; in reality, things can be more complex and may necessitate a tailored approach).
Third-party API integration is often challenging, especially for large projects with diverse data and subsystems. If you’re contemplating integrating something more complex than a Facebook login, it’s advisable to engage a specialized team. The development team’s competence level deserves special attention, as the security of third-party API integration largely depends on it. It’s vital to ensure that your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
At SECL Group, we have performed various complex integrations, linking several dozen systems with tens of millions of daily requests. If you need to integrate something into your Python, JS, or PHP project, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re well-versed in the nuances of third-party API integrations and can assist you in implementing them correctly.