What is API integration management? Here's what you need to know

Integrating your product with 3rd-party applications' APIs makes it easy for you to enhance your application and deliver a better customer experience.

The process of implementing and maintaining these API integrations, however, isn't so simple—especially when managed in-house.

We'll help you navigate API integration management by covering what it is, the common challenges you'll run up against, and the approaches you can take to manage any API integration.

What is API integration management?

It involves setting up API connections, making sure the data flows smoothly between applications, and handling any issues that might arise, such as when a third-party API changes.

Related: What are some examples of API integration?

Challenges of API integration management

Naturally, there are a few challenges with API integration management that you need to be aware of, including the following:

API changes and versioning

One of the biggest issues with API integration management is the changing nature of third-party APIs.

Third-party APIs are often updated by their providers, and as consumers of those APIs, you'll need to update your implementation accordingly. This can be a stressful and cumbersome task for your development team over time.

Dependency management

When integrating APIs through software development kits (SDKs), dependency management can be tricky.

Many SDKs depend on third-party (often open-sourced) packages and libraries. Therefore, integrating via an SDK means those dependencies also get integrated into your application, and if the API owners don't manage the dependencies, issues like the Log4j incident can affect your application.

Data mapping and transformation

As an API consumer, you need to manually transform and map the data received from the API to your application's internal data models. This task can become more difficult if you're integrating multiple APIs that send data in differing formats or if the APIs change their data structure frequently.

Rate limiting and other usage issues

Most APIs implement rate limits, and when integrating them into your app, you need to design the integration in a way that makes the best use of the rate limits without exceeding them. You also need to handle throttling and ensure the integration is scalable with your system. Setting these up by yourself can be quite cumbersome.

Since API integration management is such a complex and challenging task, you need to ensure that you choose the right strategy when starting out. In the following sections, you'll learn about some of the most common ways to implement API integration management within the context of customer-facing integrations.

Related: A guide to managing application integrations

Common approaches to API integration management

Here are some popular approaches to implementing API integration management:

Native Integrations

Native integration, which refers to directly integrating a third-party service into your application using their remote API (through network calls) or SDK (through in-code integration), is the most hands-on way of managing an API integration.

Take BambooHR's API as an example. You can either integrate their REST API directly by using network libraries in your code or by using one of their language-specific wrapper packages to communicate with the REST APIs.

The advantages of using this approach include:

  • Full flexibility: You can integrate each third-party API endpoint directly into your app. Additionally, this also means that you can choose to integrate only the endpoints you need (instead of integrating a standard set of features).
  • No added charges: Most platforms offer their APIs for free or bundle them with the business pricing plans. This means that you might not need to pay anything extra to integrate them into your application.

However, native integration also comes with a few disadvantages:

  • Difficult to scale: Each third-party service comes with a unique set of documentation and interfaces. As a result, understanding and integrating multiple services can be cumbersome—especially at scale.
  • Maintenance is difficult: Maintaining native API integrations in-house is time-intensive, tedious, and technically complex. You may need to dedicate a full-time team of engineers to maintaining integrations.

All in all, native integrations are great for applications that don't heavily rely on integrations or for applications that only need to integrate with a small, fixed set of services. But most organizations will find that as they scale, native integrations won't be a viable option for their product.

Related: A look at API integration middleware solutions

Embedded iPaaS

An embedded integration platform as a service (iPaaS) is a specialized type of integration platform that's designed to be embedded within other software applications or platforms.

It lets developers add integration capabilities directly into their own applications rather than rely on external integration solutions or native integrations. This approach also streamlines the integration process, making it more seamless and user-friendly for both developers and end users.

The benefits of using embedded iPaaS include the following:

  • Easier to scale: Since most embedded iPaaS platforms offer prebuilt connectors, it's easier to scale integrations with embedded iPaaS than native integrations. Even when writing your own connectors, the effort needed is less than writing custom, native integration logic.
  • Centralized management: Embedded iPaaS platforms provide a centralized, single pane of glass to manage your integrations.

However, iPaaS also has a few downsides:

  • Manual work: Writing custom connectors requires some manual work. Additionally, setting up an embedded iPaaS platform's connection with your app requires some manual integration in the code.
  • Lower transparency: Embedded iPaaS solutions lack the ability to provide reasons why certain calls failed. Additionally, they often don't share the appropriate steps to remediate these errors.
  • Not truly accessible to all: While embedded iPaaS platforms strive to be a solution that can be used by people from all industries and departments, its management features often require technical expertise to understand and use—which typically prevents customer success/support from using them.

Unified API

A unified API is an API that consolidates multiple functions or capabilities into a single, standardized interface. Instead of interacting with multiple APIs to access various features or services, developers can use a single, unified API to access a broad range of functionalities, simplifying the integration process and reducing complexity.

This ensures that you don't have to go through the hassle of integrating and maintaining multiple APIs in your code. It also allows you to access similar data and features from multiple providers in the same category (such as HRIS or accounting) in one unified data model, allowing for easy integration and swapping of services.

Here are some of the benefits of integrating via a unified API:

  • Scale your integration offerings: Integrate with multiple applications in a given software category by building to a single API.
  • Accommodate a wide range of requests: If you find that customers or prospects request integrations with additional 3rd-party applications in a software category you've already connected to (via a unified API), adding those integrations is easy.
  • Access robust, actionable maintenance features: Using a unified API like Merge, you can quickly pinpoint integration issues and identify the steps for addressing them (which you can pass along to the affected client).
Screenshot of an integration issue in Merge's Dashboard
Errors are automatically classified in Merge's Issues dashboard.

Unified APIs aren't perfect, either.

Sometimes, the unified data model of such APIs can be limiting, and the more you write your own custom integration logic, the more tedious it becomes to manage the integration over time. In addition, many unified API solutions only provide coverage for 1 or 2 software categories—and your product integration needs may extend further.

Merge, the leading unified API solution, neatly addresses these drawbacks. It offers seven unified APIs (and growing) including ATS, accounting, CRM, file storage, HR and payroll, ticketing, and marketing automation. Moreover, the platform offers comprehensive common models, along with advanced features, like Field Mapping, to help you sync any data that falls outside of its common models.

Finally, Merge's Integrations Management features let your customer success and support teams easily oversee and troubleshoot all of your clients' integrations, saving your developers time and ensuring your clients' integrations work effectively.

Learn more about Merge by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.