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Want your next software purchase to ‘talk’ to your existing systems?

If you are a realtor or a broker, you probably evaluate and buy software on a regular basis. Next time you are doing so, ask if your vendor provides an API. You’ll be glad you did.

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Why?

Well, first, let’s talk about what an API is. API stands for “Applications Programming Interface”–not very illuminating. What that means is that the software providing the API has a way to allow other software (applications) to interact (interface) with it, with no human involvement.  That is, the two software systems can ‘talk’ to each other.

Cut and paste is an example of a familar API. Even though applications know nothing about each other, cut and paste lets you move text or images between programs on desktop computers. This happens because each program has implemented the API provided by the operating system. Typical APIs are more structured than cut and paste, however. Most vendors today will be providing a web based API, especially if they host their software as a service (also called SaaS), like salesforce or cloudCMA.

So, an API lets other programs communicate with the software program you are considering. Why would you care if a vendor exposes an API and lets other software interact with their solution?

  • It’s a sniff test to determine if a vendor builds solutions with current technologies. APIs have absolutely exploded over the past five years, and if your vendor responds to your question with “Why would you need an API?”, or, worse, “What is an API?”, that means they aren’t keeping up with the times.
  • An API allows integration between pieces of software that don’t need to know about each other. Integrations like this can often be done by anyone who can do a mail merge in Word. This can allow you to automate your common business tasks, saving you time and money.
  • An API doesn’t just let other programs interact with your data housed in the vendor’s software, it allows you to extract that data, should you and the vendor choose to part ways. This is not easy and often requires some technical skill–but at least then you are at the mercy of someone you are paying, rather than asking the vendor to give you your data when they know you are on the way out. Think of it as an insurance policy.

How might your business use an API? This depends on the type of software, but here are some examples:

  • Send a text to your assistant when you create a new Google calendar event
  • When an email newsletter has been sent to a lead, add a note to your CRM software
  • Create a Facebook post when you add a youtube video
  • Creating a task in your task manager software (like Trello or Basecamp) when you tag an email with a label
  • Create Facebook events from your Google calendar events

Some integrations, like those mentioned above, can be strung together using free or low cost tools like zapier or ifttt. However, others might require custom software development.

APIs won’t solve all your software problems, but if you ever want your vendor’s shiny new software to interact with the other software infrastructure of your business, an API gives you that option.

[Graphic via http://www.ebaypartnernetworkblog.com/]

About Dan Moore

Dan Moore is Director of Technology and Product Development at 8z Real Estate, a technology forward brokerage for high producing agents in Colorado and California. He's been building websites and web applications since 1997.

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