No single piece of software can do it all. Instead, capability gaps and missing functionalities are a fact of life. For many users, third-party integrations are the answer.
What is a third-party software integration, and could it make your workflows more efficient? Here’s what to know.
Third-Party Software Integrations in Simple Terms
Third-party software integrations are software tools that aren’t natively built into a product but can be integrated with it to add additional functionality. This could include features like social media platform posting, payment processing, shipping carrier order tracking, and more.
Most software applications aren’t meant to work in isolation. Instead, they’re designed to cooperate with other applications to create a complete, custom solution. Third-party software integrations let multiple applications share data and functionality, which can make using all of your software tools much more efficient.
A Practical Example
Imagine you run a company that’s switching to a remote-work model. You decide to use a chat app to make it easier for people to share ideas and communicate efficiently – even if they’re working from home or a different branch office.
The problem is that your chat app only does what’s listed on the box: It’s great at letting your coworkers talk or share emojis but not much else. When your team wants to collaborate over shared documents, such as sales spreadsheets, they have to open up a different program, wasting time.
To solve the problem, you could install a third-party software integration that connected the chat app to your spreadsheet app. Depending on its features, the integration might let your workers share links to specific cells in the spreadsheet, edit formulas in chat comments, and collaborate efficiently without as much switching back and forth.
APIs: Bridging the Gap
You may have wondered how third-party add-ons actually translate data from one app into a form that another can use. For instance, in the previous example, how was the third-party integration able to get the chat app to work with the spreadsheet app if neither application even knew the other existed? In the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer revolves around some kind of application programming interface (API).
An API is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a software application. It lets programmers know how to write appropriate code that can send data to or request data from an app.
Here’s another example. Suppose an independent developer wanted to create an integration, such as an add-on that let a small business import the same photos from its Instagram into its Amazon listings. They’d use the Instagram and Amazon APIs to make web requests that extracted data from one platform and sent it to the other in the correct format.
APIs usually stay in the background. They’re just coding standards, so end users don’t typically know they’re there – even if they’re technically handling all of the heavy lifting.
Where APIs Come From
Software companies can save themselves time and money by releasing APIs. Instead of developing every possible feature, the software maker can entice others to make integrations with its services. Making it easier to create compatible integrations also increases the odds that these tools will be safe and secure for users.
Most APIs come from the same software company that made the app. For instance, Google makes APIs for Gmail, and Microsoft publishes APIs for MS Office. Some, however, are developed independently of any particular service.
When developing your own third-party software integrations, using the official APIs is often preferable. This is the best way to go if you want your integrations to gain recognition or support from the original software company. On the flip side, not all official APIs will offer all the features and functionalities needed to tackle certain tasks.
The Final Word on Third-party Software Integrations
Third-party software integrations are crucial for getting apps to play nicely together – or at least share the data they produce. If you’re a consumer, such as a small-business owner, they can dramatically improve your productivity. If you’re an app designer or coder, on the other hand, creating useful integrations that build on existing APIs can potentially help you drive revenue by filling a market gap.