Interfaces, meh

Application Programming Interfaces. That is nerd talk. APIs, JSONs, REST and HTTP requests. Boring! Let us concentrate on business.

Exactly. So, let’s talk about APIs for a while. In human language.

Data utilisation seems to be the hot topic of the day: big data, open data and, possibly in the future, also MyData. What if you could combine the data generated in your business with real-time information about traffic flows, available rental facilities, or nearby events?

The only problem is that this kind of data is often scattered and lies deep in the system. It is very difficult to fish out. And even if you manage to do that, data sets are in different format and thus incomparable. Who on earth could decipher that mess?

Well, someone who knows how to utilise APIs.

APIs are like car controls. Once you learn how to use them, you know how to drive any car. You do not have to worry about whether there is a carburettor, jet, V8 or a diesel engine under the bonnet. The gas pedal, the break and the indicator switch are always in the same place. Well, the steering wheel can be on the left or right, and the gear system can be manual or automatic, but the basics never change.

An API hides the system and its problems under the bonnet. With the help of APIs, data can be transformed into a single form regardless of the system it comes from. On top of that, if the APIs are open, they can combine data from several different sources.

And lo and behold! After that, you can concentrate on the meat of the matter, which is business. The possibilities are endless. Shall we start by combining weather information and accommodation statistics? Or the purchase invoices of big cities? What kind of services do cities actually purchase?

All this data is already freely available. Not all of it includes an API yet, and that is why the six biggest cities in Finland have joined forces: The cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu are developing APIs for easy access of data concerning each city. This data is free of charge and free to use, especially for business purposes.

More information can be found here (in Finnish).

Image: Skyscraper by ciocci (cc-by-2.0)