Unified API pros and cons
Unified APIs are purpose-built to help software developers add customer-facing integrations to their products. Compared to alternatives they make integration building and maintenance much more scalable and the data they provide is normalized by default. But they aren't for every integration use case.
In this article we'll cover the major benefits of Unified APIs and several considerations you'll want to take into account as you plan your next customer-facing integration.
Unified API Benefits
Unified APIs offer large benefits to developers that need to build multiple customer-facing integrations.
- Solves data normalization and transformation
- Reduces development effort and time to market
- Eases long-term maintenance
Data normalization and transformation
Unified APIs are architected with data normalization in mind, mapping the data schemas from each software provider into a standard data model. In the process of mapping, Unified APIs will also often transform data into standard formats (for example, currency or date time) that otherwise differ between providers.
By doing the work of normalization and transformation, Unified APIs save developers from having to write as much code, track down bugs, and investigate the differences between each software provider's API. Important normalization aspects include:
- Normalization of fields across many providers
- Normalization of fields with only some providers supported
- Normalization of objects and relationships
- Transformation of data types (picklists/enums, dates, currencies)
For more on how a Unified API defines standard data models, check out our post on how we develop Unified APIs.
Development effort and time to market
Unified APIs typically save developers 80% of the time it takes to build each additional integration. For many organizations, integrations with external APIs may take a development team 1-4 weeks of work.
For organizations building multiple integrations, the time savings can be immense, reducing the need for developers to work on integrations and dramatically speeding up when integrations can be offered to customers.
Ramp was able to add 24 HR integrations within 4 weeks, rather than a month per integration if they were to build each themselves.
Not only do Unified APIs help to get integrations set up, they also provide many features that reduce the engineering burden of longer-term integration maintenance. Functionality such as webhooks, automated error detection, and logging make it easy for support teams to diagnose the root cause of an integration failure and, for common failures like restricted permissions or invalid authentication credentials, proactively reach out to customers.
Unified API Considerations
By adding an additional layer of abstraction to software providers' APIs, Unified APIs have several areas you should consider to ensure they are right for your product.
- Required data model customization
- Real-time data
- Data security and reliability
- Cost of integrations
Data model customization
Unified APIs present a standard data model, which speeds up development time and effort. However, not every data field or use case may fit into a standard data model across all software providers.
A well designed Unified API will not leave you with the least common denominator of standardized data; instead, Unified APIs should offer robust custom objects, fields, and tools to map those fields to your customer's data schemas.
Unified APIs also include the ability to access the original API responses should you need to parse un-normalized data for specific use cases.
For example, you may require access to a custom Contracts object within your customers' CRM systems. A flexible Unified API architecture will allow you to access normalized data for Accounts and Opportunities, while also giving you the tools to map custom objects and fields for the specific Contracts data you need.
Related: What is an API aggregator?
Each Unified API provider (and often each integration within a Unified API) offers different data sync frequencies. In many cases these frequencies can be as fast as every few minutes. For software providers that offer webhooks, Unified APIs can be configured to retrieve data nearly instantly.
You should be sure to evaluate Unified API providers by their ability to sync data at a frequency that meets the needs of your use case. For example, syncing employee rosters may only need to happen once a day while syncing comments on a customer support ticket may need to occur in real time.
Data security and reliability
Because Unified APIs sync data for you, they offer tremendous value in infrastructure costs and management. Syncing data on your behalf also means that Unified APIs become data sub-processors for your customers' data.
You should ensure that your Unified API vendor has relevant compliance certifications (SOC 2 Type II, ISO 27001), meets data privacy and residency requirements (e.g. EU data hosting), and implements robust data security protections.
Cost of integrations
Unified APIs become part of your infrastructure stack and your infrastructure budget. Most Unified APIs include a usage cost that scales with the number of customers you onboard to integrations and/or the volume of API requests you make.
You should balance this ongoing cost with the alternative to build each integration, test each one, maintain each integration, and host the infrastructure necessary to do your own data normalization and transformation.
In most cases, companies that choose Unified APIs see cost savings up-front of several developer months per integration, reflecting a team of 2-3 engineers working for 2-3 weeks to build and test. In addition, longer-term engineering costs are reduced with fewer bugs.
Additional Unified API Resources
If you're looking to go deeper on Unified APIs, check out these essential articles:
For all of this info in one comprehensive place, download the Guide to Unified APIs.