The conventional method of building integrations involved coding custom solutions for each application, leading to complex and time-consuming projects. Organizations either dedicated their in-house engineers to the task or relied on external agencies, which often proved expensive. While this approach is still widely used, it lacks scalability and flexibility.
One of the primary drawbacks of this approach is its complexity. Each integration project requires intricate coding, testing, and debugging, making the entire process time-consuming and resource-intensive. As applications and systems multiply within an organization, the integration projects pile up, creating bottlenecks that slow down the overall development process. Moreover, the complexity of the integrations often means that the maintenance and support overhead are high, requiring constant monitoring and updates to keep the connections functioning smoothly.
However, with the emergence of Unified APIs, developers found a more streamlined and efficient way to access data from multiple sources through a single interface. In this blog, we will explore the rise of Unified APIs, their benefits, and the challenges they present and how things might evolve in future.
But prior to anything else, Zapier made its entrance.
How Zapier Changed the Game
The advent of Zapier brought about a paradigm shift in the way integrations were approached, leaving a lasting impact on the integration landscape. As a leading B2C integration platform, Zapier revolutionized the way businesses connected with various tools and applications. With its user-friendly interface and intuitive functionality, Zapier offered a simple and elegant solution to the long-standing challenge of integrating different systems.
Central to Zapier's success is its concept of "Zaps." These automated workflows are the heart and soul of the platform, empowering users to effortlessly move data between applications. With just a few clicks, users can create customized Zaps that trigger actions whenever a specific event occurs in one application, leading to an automated response in another.
Moreover, Zapier's user-centric approach and easy-to-navigate interface make it accessible to a wide audience, not just developers. This accessibility attracts professionals from various backgrounds, from marketing managers and sales representatives to HR personnel and project coordinators. By empowering non-technical users to integrate applications, Zapier breaks down the barriers between different departments and fosters a culture of collaboration.
Today, Zapier remains a trailblazer in the integration space, continually expanding its capabilities and refining its user experience. Its legacy is etched in the industry as a transformational force that democratizes data access and enables businesses to leverage automation for increased efficiency and productivity.
The Birth of Unified API
While Zapier and other similar integration platforms addressed integration challenges to some extent, they were not without their shortcomings. One notable limitation is that Zapier is neither white-labeled nor native, meaning that businesses could not control the end-user experience to match their own. This lack of native capabilities hindered companies from presenting a seamless and consistent experience to their users, potentially diluting their brand identity.
Businesses need to allocate resources to handle any support overhead resulting from the integration process. The fragmented customer experience remains a concern for some users who encounter different interfaces and settings across various integrations.
To tackle these limitations, Unified API came into existence, promising fast, native integrations. It sought to provide a unified data model that would allow developers to access data from various sources in a standardized manner, making integrations more efficient and straightforward.
A Unified API is an innovative type of application programming interface (API) designed to empower developers with seamless access to information from multiple sources through a single interface. In simpler terms, a unified API streamlines and accelerates the process of fetching data from diverse databases, applications, systems, and even different APIs.
Software engineers and businesses are increasingly embracing Unified APIs due to their potential to boost productivity, minimize development costs, and simplify the integration of various systems. This blog aims to delve into the essence of unified APIs, exploring their advantages and challenges. Additionally, we will spotlight real-world examples of unified API implementations.
Four Main Challenges with Unified API
Despite the many advantages that Unified APIs bring to the table, they are not without their fair share of challenges. It is essential to recognize that while Unified APIs offer a streamlined and standardized approach to data access and integration, they may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for every use case and organization. Let’s look at some of the challenges below:
1. Not Really that Fast
Setting up and integrating Unified APIs can prove to be a time-consuming endeavor, especially when dealing with complex use-cases that involve multiple API calls and intricate data transformations.
Moreover, launching new use-cases or incorporating changes to existing workflows often necessitates revisiting the engineering team to fine-tune the integration, which can slow down the development process and make it less agile than anticipated.
2. Data Model Limitations, can be as Cumbersome as Direct Integration
Unified data models, while standardized, may not provide access to all data columns directly. This limitation can be particularly problematic when handling complex use-cases that require granular data access.
Dealing with complex data structures, custom fields, or specialized data attributes may necessitate accessing specific data columns that might not be readily available within the standardized data model. As a result, developers may need to employ workarounds or supplementary methods to obtain the desired data, such as implementing additional API calls or performing post-processing to transform the retrieved data into the required format.
For example, imagine a company that relies heavily on custom fields within its HubSpot and Salesforce instances to store critical customer information. When attempting to integrate this data into their unified ecosystem, they may find that the Unified API does not directly provide access to these specialized fields. To overcome this limitation, they would have to initiate separate API calls to the respective applications to extract the specific data they require.
3. Lack of Logic Handling and Transformation Layer
One notable limitation of Unified APIs is the lack of built-in logic handling and transformation capabilities. While these APIs excel at synchronizing data between various applications and systems, they may not provide a comprehensive solution for applying specific data transformations or implementing custom logic during the integration process.
In many integration scenarios, data from different sources may require manipulation, validation, or enrichment before it can be effectively utilized in the target system. For instance, businesses often need to map data from one format to another, apply calculations, filter records based on specific criteria, or enforce data validation rules to ensure data accuracy and consistency.
Without a dedicated logic handling and transformation layer, developers must create these data transformations from scratch.
4. Missing User Configuration
The ability for users to configure mappings between fields, specify data transformations, and enable specific workflows is essential for tailoring integrations to meet unique business needs and user preferences.
In contrast to some other integration solutions, Unified APIs may lack the built-in features that allow users to define their own mappings, rules, or workflows. As a result, organizations might find themselves in a situation where they need to develop these user configuration functionalities from scratch. Creating these custom features not only demands additional engineering effort but also impacts the overall user experience.
So what's next? We believe Unified API + Workflows is the future
To overcome the challenges associated with Unified APIs, the future lies in combining Unified APIs with workflow automation. By merging these two concepts, engineers can build integrations more efficiently and create a robust system to handle logic, user configurations, and data transformation. This approach not only promises faster integrations but also reduces the engineering workload dedicated to integration tasks.
One of the key benefits of this unified approach is the ability to handle complex data transformations and logic with ease. Workflow automation tools enable engineers to define data processing rules, apply transformations, and execute specific actions based on predetermined triggers. This automation frees developers from the need to create custom data manipulation routines from scratch, significantly reducing development time and effort.
Unified APIs have undoubtedly revolutionized the integration landscape, simplifying the process of accessing data from multiple sources. However, they are not without their challenges. As technology evolves, integrating Unified APIs with workflow automation holds great promise for overcoming the current limitations.
At Cobalt, we are committed to harnessing the power of Unified APIs and low-code builders to build integrations that are faster, more efficient, and customizable for every user. By combining the strengths of both approaches, we aim to provide seamless data access and integration solutions for businesses of all sizes, empowering them to thrive in the modern digital landscape.