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Unlocking Your Business Potential with the Magic of Modern APIs

Here’s how companies get locked into a system with no ability to upgrade or integrate—and the key to getting out.

What if you could access any data you needed, no matter which application it may be stored in, the moment you needed it?

If this question made you sit up in your seat, you’re probably stuck with a provider without the magic of modern API architecture.

I've worked with companies in the past that have dealt with everything from using email to transfer information from one system into some other system—to ultimately not pulling the information altogether and finding a workaround to avoid a system breakdown.

Traditionally, systems like the one your company uses have legacy protocols, which delay the movement of data by a couple of days or even a week. The protocols involve multiple handoffs between applications.

It’s a swivel chair integration process where there's somebody taking data from one system, and typing it into another.

I even remember one company whose “integration” process involved System 1 showing a blank terminal ready to receive information, and the only way to provide the information was to pull it up in System 2 and type it in line by line. 

The frustrating thing is there is a commonly used, easy-to-implement way to combat these problems—and that’s through the use of standards-based APIs.

Let’s explore.

Solving Problems by Creating More

Legacy systems often don't have standards-based APIs, which means there's no standard way to authenticate integration with systems that can help retrieve and post data.

This leaves the only option of building one-to-one integrations into these systems, which usually involves manual solves—meaning someone will have to write code to make one application understand the information from the other. 

And to write code, you have to hire developers. And once that code is written, it has to be maintained. 

Therefore as you upgrade the software, your new code–the glue code that's sitting in between your integrations, moving data back and forth—can easily break. So your developers need to stick around to continually test it and rewrite it.

All of these factors have created an impossibly high barrier for your company to grow, to keep up with evolving modernization.

And as you try to create delicate fixes that could break your system with the slightest move, that barrier becomes higher and higher and higher. Until finally—the barrier is so high you get version-locked. 

“Version-Locked” Inside a Broken System

There are so many legacy systems still not using APIs that force companies to simply cross their fingers and hope for the best with a clunky workaround that’s both costly and error-prone. But all these flimsy fixes ultimately add up to more risk when it’s time to upgrade.

Becoming “version-locked” happens when companies will no longer upgrade any of these systems because they simply can’t chance a breakdown. They don’t want crucial operations to be interrupted by broken code. 

So their only choice is to remain version-locked. It means they can’t adopt newer versions of software and take advantage of the modern features or capabilities their provider is adding. And as long as they don’t upgrade, their software grows more outdated, and they get left behind.

No Escape—By Design

The obvious solution to these problems is to leave your system for a modern one—but can you?

Even when a company wants to solve these problems by moving away from its legacy system it runs into yet another locked door. Because when it comes time to migrate data to the new system, there's no mechanism to export and transfer it.

Older systems are designed, sometimes even intentionally, to lock you in, and to lock your data in. You can't access it, you can't export it, you can't easily integrate it.

It can't be done. So once again, companies are forced to hire developers to write custom scripts to extract their data before they can even begin an IT project, like an integration. 

You're forced to buy all your features from one vendor instead of easily integrating. 

The Key to a Version-Locked Door

A modern API allows your application to communicate with other systems utilizing a bit of standardized code.

Consider it this way: APIs are the universal translators in the varying languages between systems. They’re what make modern product software communicate “fluently” with the external applications any given product company may need for their product lifecycle and commercialization operations.

With that key translation—that standards-based code—any system upgrades will also be seamless because the language will remain the same even through upgrades. 

And there are many tools at the disposal of modern platform developers to achieve the extent of the benefits of APIs. 

There are standards-based API authentication tools, such as the architectural style REST (representational state transfer) or the Soap protocol which is a standardized method of communication between operating systems.

Implementing REST and Soap are common practices to ensure you're authenticating your integrations with other systems properly. 

A crucial reason why this works so well for both upgradeability and integrability is the fact that APIs are public, once they’re created. 

A modern software solution may create an API, and they may version it but every time they do, once any version is out there—it's now available. They won’t be able to break any existing integrations that have been built. 

Plus, if a new vendor comes along with new, advanced, or unique capabilities your company needs, it’s very easy for a modern PLM provider with standards-based APIs to connect and integrate the new third party.

Ultimately, if your company is stuck version-locked, a modern platform with standards-based APIs is the key to getting you moving again. 

Here are a few ways how:

1. No Code, No Locked Doors

In the past, developers were the gatekeepers—the only ones who had the secret password (manually typed code) to get past a locked gate (from one system to another, or from one version to the next). 

Now, there are not only no gatekeepers needed, but indeed no gates at all.

How? With no-code tools. These are tools or capabilities embedded in a flexible user interface that allows every user to make changes or improvements using drag-and-drop tools and out-of-the-box functionality. In other words, with clicks not code.

Let’s walk through some examples. Modern software solutions such as Propel are built using lightning web components, Salesforce’s flexible framework for building a user-friendly interface. 

Within this framework, there are built-in tools such as Flow which leverages other platform features to create custom workflows between teams and between integrated applications.

For example, when an interesting or important event happens—such as a change order being released—a “platform event” can be triggered allowing users to publish the information to integrated systems related to their supply chain and any others that may be impacted.

Users can also create their own automated workflows between systems, notifications for specific events, and data updates between systems.

And they can do all of this without involving a single developer.

2. Freeing Up Your IT Team

Typically, a new integration is a daunting task. IT must log some serious hours learning the new system, the code required to integrate with their current applications, the teams affected, etc. 

Not to mention the expense. Often when a new integration is proposed, the c-level leaders will just see big red dollar signs, overshadowing any future benefits.

But if your solution provider has a modern architecture and the right APIs in place, the barrier is drastically lower. 

Cost is less of an issue when you're leveraging universal tools with common patterns. You don't have to hire developers with specific skill sets to build the integrations and maintain them over time.

Upgradeability is top of mind for IT leaders who want to adopt and take advantage of the newer features that are being added all the time. With modern API-based software, integrations won’t stand in the way of upgrading.

Bottom line: IT leaders will have an easier, faster, and less expensive job in implementing integrations that could be critical to business evolution and revenue growth.

And with all that time given back to them? They’ll have more time to focus on strategic approaches to making your company competitive in the digital landscape.

3. Accessing Data the Moment You Need It

We’ve discussed the how and the why, but ultimately can simpler integration truly impact long-term business success?

Absolutely, by providing greater data access. 

The problem with legacy systems is that they can’t accommodate an ecosystem for multiple applications and integrations. But the data stored within these systems is needed universally—by every team—to create a successful product.

Within a large company, the central product management software may be part of an ecosystem of other applications. Especially for a solution such as Propel, the application is effectively sitting in between the upstream systems that are feeding data into it and the downstream systems that need to take the data out.

The only way to accomplish an operation this complex without breakages or long delays in sending or receiving data is to utilize an API-first approach. Companies must be able to get data in and out of these systems quickly and play well with each other within the ecosystem. 

Delays in finding data can cause critical issues within the supply chain, production, or even quality. 

For instance, a simple miscommunication wherein a change gets approved but the shop floor or the manufacturing partner doesn’t see it in time could result in wasted time and money building products from incorrect designs.

Moreover, the ability to obtain accurate data quickly, wherever and whenever you need it, is vital to speed time to market.

When bringing a product to market, all team members need the appropriate information at their fingertips, whether it be supply chain data, quality data, or product detail depending on their position along the value chain.

With modern integration architecture, data within every application would be accessible in real time. Without having to hunt it down or worry whether it’s accurate or up-to-date, every stakeholder along the value chain can make the right decisions in order to get to market faster.

Unlocking Insights into Your Supply Chain 

An example of an integration whose data is vital to access quickly and swiftly is a data intelligence vendor such as SiliconExpert

More than ever before, companies are struggling with constant supply chain challenges—delayed delivery schedules, rising costs, and constantly evolving environmental and ethical regulations in various local markets. 

They need to know how to react, how to pivot swiftly to a different supplier when a more suitable part or component is needed. They need to know if the parts they require meet all their needs and if they are even available. 

Are they easy to attain? Are the prices reasonable? Are there multiple vendors to assess? Are there risks to their supply chain? 

They have to answer all these questions and they have to do so FAST to meet their deadlines and to meet their time to market ahead of competitors. 

Integrating your PLM with a supply chain partner such as SiliconExpert can do exactly that. They can make it easy to immediately and thoroughly scan your supply chain data and tell you the accurate answers that meet your long list of requirements. Looking for parts that are safe to use? Easy to source? Are they available from multiple vendors? Partners like SiliconExpert can be integrated to provide these answers directly within your application.

Integrations in legacy systems can lock you in a cage of broken code that you can’t help but build. With the freedom of modern API architecture, built by modern product software solutions like Propel, you’ll be amazed at the doors that will open.

How do industry cloud solutions deliver fast and flexible upgrades? Check out our article Ready-to-Adopt Release Cycles: Upgrades That Won’t Upend Your Business to learn more.

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Post by
Nate Brown
Staff Product Manager, Propel

Nate has been in the product lifecycle management (PLM) industry for almost 20 years, with prior experience in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and IT for manufacturing. He has extensive experience in solution selling, product management, and solution consulting.

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Nate Brown