An ERP solution, in isolation, is inherently useful to your business. It helps you understand your operational capacity, identify areas of progress and other areas that need to be improved, and plan your route to future growth. It's an already vital asset, but this does not mean you can't get even more out of the solution.
REST APIs make it possible to achieve even more benefits from your ERP, thanks to interactivity and interoperability. These secure digital gateways enable connections with third-party service providers and data sources, vastly increasing your capability and the potential of your ERP.
What is a REST API?
A REST API is an application programming interface that works with the REST — or Representational State Transfer — software architecture to interact with a piece of computing software. In a general sense, an API is a secure interface that enables interoperability between separate software, applications or systems, facilitating easy scaling and improved capability.
To be considered a REST API, the interface must be compatible only with the REST architecture. A web service using the REST architecture must present its web resources in the form of text that can be viewed, read and interacted with via the API, in adherence with predefined operational principles.
Web services that follow these REST guidelines and utilise this architecture are referred to as RESTful and will support the REST API.
Achieving Software Flexibility with a REST API
With a REST API in place, software and applications suddenly gain access to a whole world of additional capability. This is the beauty of any API — the interface enables secure connections and powerful interactions between different systems and software pieces, eliminating the need for complex and expensive backend coding and development work.
To illustrate this, we can look at a simple example involving weather conditions. If you operate an e-commerce business, it will be helpful for your customers to know about instances of extreme weather that may affect their delivery times. However, it will take a whole lot of time, effort, cost and resources to develop your own weather reporting system, and then publish this on your site.
Deploying an API means you don't have to worry about this. You can set your API to receive data from the Bureau of Meteorology, which will provide real-time updates on climatic conditions, including extreme weather conditions that will affect deliveries. You can choose to publish this on your website for the customer to see, or you can go a step further and incorporate it into your client-facing billing services, providing direct insight into expected delivery times.
This is only one example of the possibility that APIs provide — we'll be looking at three more crucial external data sources you can connect to your ERP solution next month.
REST APIs and ERP Interactivity
While a REST API is not exclusively used to achieve ERP interactivity, it is certainly very useful in this regard. Your ERP solution needs to be a centralised source of truth and understanding, providing a comprehensive snapshot of available resources, current resource usage, and future strategies. Without this overarching capability, it is difficult to leverage the very best from the solution.
REST APIs provide immediate connection to a range of external information sources. Rather than simply relying upon internal data sets, the ERP is able to draw upon information from right across the web ecosystem, provided securely and reliably across the API.
Real-Time Understanding of Resources
At first glance, resource availability seems to rely mainly upon internal data. Your ERP already holds data relating to your inventory, your roster of equipment, and the employee teams and specialists who are needed to work on each project, among other datasets related to operational performance. So, why is an API necessary here?
The API is necessary because, in the real world, resource data does not come exclusively from internal sources. You will likely be using third-party teams to expand the operational capability of your organisation. Similarly, it is unfeasible for your business to handle the preparation and development of raw materials that are used in production — these materials and resources will instead come from an external provider.
Using RESTful web services, these external partners and suppliers can make their data available to your ERP via a REST API. This enables real-time resource updates and insight, accessible to you and your teams within the platform.
Streamlined Business Model
Deploying a digital connection like a REST API greatly increases the efficiency of your business operations. It would be possible to achieve a good understanding of your available resources and then plan your future resource usage accordingly via a mixture of manual and automatic processes. However, this is a highly complex and error-prone way of doing things.
The beauty of a REST API is that it streamlines the entire process. There is no need for intermediary points within your data flow — instead, data connects directly from the source to the ERP platform. The result is a lean business model without any of the points of friction that slow your operations down. Increased sophistication does not need to mean increased architectural or infrastructural complexity — REST APIs are designed to make doing business easier, not more difficult.
Improved Customer Experience
Your ERP solution is intended to provide comprehensive insight to your teams so that you can plan your operations with confidence and with a data-driven approach. But what comes after this? If your ERP is working as it should, the end goal should be direct revenue increases and increased customer lifetime value across your business.
This makes customer experience a key battleground as you seek to develop your market share. The REST API is a crucial factor as you work towards this, providing real-time insight that you can pass on to your customers either directly or indirectly. In the weather report and delivery update example, we examined how this insight is provided directly to customers. This can be extended with elements like re-stock updates and notifications that inform customers when products they are interested in are available.
Customers benefit indirectly too. With the right real-time updates fed into your ERP platform, you can achieve accurate operational forecasting that helps you to keep key products and services in stock and available. Eliminate the gaps in your product availability cycles, and keep your customers happy as a result.
Expanding the Capabilities of Your ERP Solution with REST API
We've begun to scratch the surface of what is possible for your ERP solution when you expand its capabilities with a REST API. In our next post, we will look at this in more detail, examining the data sources you need to connect to your ERP platform to do more and be more for your customers.
Here at Key Business Solutions (KBS), we provide software solutions that target data integration and far-reaching insight and capability for businesses. Contact us today to learn more.