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Web services sound really complicated, but to put it simply, they are the tools which allow electronic systems and software to “talk to” each other.

There are various web services tools which allow a client to send a “call” from one piece of software to another and receive a return call. Because these services are built on open standards, services are not tied to any one operating system. Traditional system integration or “talking” between software is often problematic for end users; however, adding this web service compatibility promotes improved business logic, cleaner data exchange and improved processes.

One web service increasing in visibility as a tool to enhance compatibility is the Application Programming Interface (API). API is defined as the “key” to open an application.

To paint the picture of how an API works, let’s use the example of Google Maps. The average user views Google Maps as a web-based application, which allows access to a variety of direction services, including street maps, real-time traffic updates, panoramic views of specific locations and satellite images. To power Google Maps, an interface between the application delivered to the user and a variety of information sources to deliver the data (and visuals) is required. The API is the “key” to open the interface, allowing the application to receive and disperse the data requested by the user. In other words, the API is the tool behind the scenes facilitating the moving of data from different sources into the application, which in the case of Google Maps, allows access to a variety of maps sought by the user.

From the perspective of an HR professional, APIs can effectively serve as a means to cultivate continuity between different business processing systems (i.e., payroll, time-keeping, benefits administration and talent management). The reality, for many HR professionals, is that data lives in many locations and, far too often, is difficult (in some instances impossible) to effectively and efficiently consolidate this data for business purposes.

Even clients on a single-source platform can face frustrating circumstances when the individual modules within are found to be incompatible. For example, the payroll module cannot “talk” to the benefits administration module – thereby limiting reporting capabilities, a major pain point many of our clients experienced while pulling data for Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting.

While APIs will not actually eliminate file feeds, their presence can certainly advance the exchange of data, eliminating the need for creating custom file feed builds, which are often labor intensive and expensive.

From a functional perspective, APIs help facilitate the following:

  • APIs allow SaaS-based platforms to share information without requiring the creation of compatible web services or web browsers.
  • APIs enable the exchange of information between software applications developed through different programming language or operating system orientation.
  • APIs facilitate the exchange of large amounts of data, reducing the number of individual feeds required.

Various technology vendors and third party developers offer open APIs to clients. Given the increasing demands on HR professionals, utilization of APIs as a mechanism to optimize the exchange of data between systems may be a worthwhile investment.

If you have any questions about APIs or how you can use them, do not hesitate to reach out by commenting below or sending your questions to