API’s are the future of logistics

API’s or, application programming interfaces exchange data between different applications. Web API’s were officially born in the early 2000’s and were first used in a live application by Salesforce in November of the same year. So what exactly is an API? 

At its most basic definition, an API lets one piece of software talk another piece of software and acts a the middleman between sender and receiver (a bit like a postal pigeon but without the coo roo-c'too-coo). 

Bad jokes aside, did you know you are probably using one or more API’s every day? Every time you log on to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., you’re using an API to send and receive information. Or what about booking a flight or a table in your favourite restaurant? It’s all API’s. 

API’s are also used in many B2B operations. In the logistics industry, for example, API’s have solved many issues that have plagued the industry for decades.
One of them is connectivity. Until recently, it was impossible for shippers, transportation providers and receivers to obtain reliable, real-time status updates on the whereabouts of a shipment. 

Thanks to API’s, logistics providers can now easily provide real-time shipping data with their third party providers through an interconnected network of applications that pass around information with the speed of light. API’s have made everything in the supply chain visible, trackable and traceable, effectively democratizing a whole industry and opening it up for independent developers and (Saas) startups like ourselves. 

The possibilities that API offers to the industry are virtually endless and limited only by its users’ imagination and, more importantly, their willingness to open their platforms for others to connect to. The sooner the latter is addressed, the quicker the industry will innovate. This innovation will, in turn, increase the overall efficiency in the chain and lower overall costs, causing the metaphorical snowball effect, attracting even more users. 

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. At least, not yet…. 

The reason is that despite its inherent advantages, API’s are still much a work in progress in our industry (at this time of writing at least) because: 

  1. We see that many players are simply not yet ready to innovate and/ or; 
  2. they have invested heavily in heritage technology like EDI.

Speaking of which, EDI or, Electronic Data Interchange is currently the most popular technology to transfer data  in the logistics industry and it’s easy to understand why: 

  • EDI works with pre-authorized users, making it less prone to outside attacks. 
  • It tracks data between users and facilitates the exchange of large amounts of information at once.
  • EDI can be set up to send almost all sorts of data and there is no server involved which makes it very safe. 

The problem with EDI is that it’s an old technology (it was first used in the 1960s by the Holland-America steamship line), and it’s simply not as flexible as API. Once an EDI connection between two users is set up, there’s no flexibility in that it is partner-oriented and not application-oriented like an API is. 

To put it in layman’s terms: it’s hard to add functionality to an EDI since its functions/ services are usually defined/ hardcoded beforehand. 

With API’s on the other hand, functionality can be added as needed paving the way for bespoke solutions and ensuring that an application is future-proof.

In a nutshell, here’s where API beats EDI: 

  • Seamless integration. Even if systems are updated in the future, API’s can model themselves easily around these updated systems, keeping everything flexible and future proof. 
  • Real-time (status) updates. The output of an API is synchronized in real-time, giving users the latest information without any abruption. 
  • Connection to the web. If run your API’s over the internet, (effectively creating web API’s), you have the possibility to instantly connect thousands (or even millions) of users to your platform, who can access and interact with your data in real-time. The beauty is that this can be done with the click of a mouse.
  • Development speed. Anyone who knows programming can write programs or apps for an API. This makes developing applications for SaaS platforms extremely quick when compared to developing proprietary software. No wonder the tech industry is big on API’s and they are being used everywhere. 

As you may have noticed we are big proponents of API (he he…. our platform is built on API’s so how could we say differently ?! ;-) but what about you? 

Published on 2019-09-30 at 10:15 by

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