These days, data is the lifeblood of any organization, powering all its systems and – ideally – guiding every decision. But while data may be king, the system has traditionally been star of the show with data relegated to a supporting role. This culture of prioritizing systems over data has led to significant inefficiencies around tools, data and workflows. Even worse, it has often made it harder for organizations to get the right data to the right user at the right time, in a format and context the user wants.
Why are these problems arising? Over many years, the system-centric view of the world has prompted organizations to create or buy an ever more diverse array of applications, websites and systems. These tools tend to be disconnected from one another, run in silos using separate data, and require human beings to join the dots between them. As a result, users are required to access and transfer data manually, context-switching between the different applications.
This in turn creates further issues. One is that end-to-end workflows become inefficient because people have to spend so much time locating and interpreting data. Another is that this means users are less able to focus on activities that add value to the business.
Today’s Fragmented Systems and Data…
How do these problems play out in practice? Imagine an organization where users access three tools. One is a customized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that holds all the data on existing client relationships as well as prospects and leads – information that’s mission-critical.
The second tool, accessed via a subscription-based website, provides detailed, accurate information about people and the connections between them. This tool is vital for business development, as it helps the client relationship and sales teams see beyond the organization’s current collective network to make new connections.
The third tool, a daily newsletter subscription that all users receive, contains details of executive and leadership moves in the market. The sales team uses this data to identify opportunities to capitalize on existing relationships and forge new ones.
…Create a Need for Streamlining and Automation
These three tools are all great sources of information in their own right. But the skill and experience of the employees is needed to use each tool in the appropriate way and extract only the most relevant information.
The underlying issue is that while each system offers valuable data, human beings are responsible for bringing it all together in one place, and then applying business logic held in their heads to spot insights, triggers and signals that drive decisions. It’s a major pinch-point on value creation.
To remove it, what’s needed is a way to automate the exchange of data between different tools and streamline workflows end-to-end – meaning all the information that users need can be in one place, easily accessible, in context and pre-filtered to match exactly what they’re looking for.
The Way Forward: APIs
The solution is readily to hand. APIs provide a simple and secure way to exchange data between systems or applications without requiring extra resource for storage or processing. What’s more, business logic can be coded in to automate the whole process.
How can organizations seize this opportunity? Through two steps. First, analyzing user workflows – asking questions like what tools people are using, and what data they extract, why and when. And second, using APIs to break down the walls between the siloed tools.
APIs allow connectivity between internal systems and external systems. So, for an external system such as a subscription website or newsletter, the third-party vendor will provide the APIs to help your internal systems talk to their system. Any vendor that’s serious about competing in today’s marketplace will be offering APIs to its customers to address this pain point.
Wherever the APIs come from, the benefits they deliver are dramatic. They ensure that data gets to exactly where it can have the most impact – both by increasing contextual data through transferring it across different tools, and by filtering data automatically to make it appropriate to the user. What’s more, services such as alerts on changes impacting specific people, roles or organizations can be passed straight into the CRM system rather than being emailed to someone’s inbox, enabling faster and more coordinated responses.
Consider the effect on the theoretical organization I described earlier. Using APIs, it can now bring external data on people, relationships and organizations directly into its CRM system, on demand, with no manual intervention. As a result, the sales team always has detailed, accurate and timely contextual people data about prospects at its fingertips. And in the case of data from the newsletter on executive and leadership moves, the team can notify the client relationship managers when action needs to be taken – removing the need for them to sift through information, process and digest it to find what they are looking for.
This is a big step forward. The information in the newsletter might not have been relevant at the time or needed immediately. But when client relationship managers are looking for specific information as part of a task in their workflow, they can access exactly what they need there and then to identify triggers for action.
APIs also provide access to wider external data beyond the traditional sources. This data can be integrated into key systems, streamlining workflows and providing richer intelligence – while also removing manual tasks and context switching to free up further time to focus on adding business value.
The Future of Data Usage
Not surprisingly, BoardEx is an enthusiastic and active participant in the API revolution. Our BoardEx Developer API harnesses the power of APIs for users – helping organizations define and understand the contacts needed to reach, refine and target audiences with campaigns and programs, and identify opportunities for client retention and acquisition, all while maximizing use of resources.
We believe APIs are the future of data usage across all organizations. Put simply, they enable data providers to say “this is what we have” and “this is how you can get it to exactly where you need it”. The next step towards realizing the fullest possible value from that data is to apply sophisticated data analytics. I’ll look at how to do that in my next article.