Today you can choose from literally hundreds of cloud apps to plug into your cloud accounting program. But what happens if you can’t find the app that does exactly what you need?

One of the secrets about cloud apps is that you can make them do things they weren’t built to do.

  • Want to take a list of materials from your CAD design software and add it automatically to a purchase order or quote?
  • Does a large retailer send requests in a format (eg. EDI) that you want to push straight into Unleashed or Dear?
  • Are you spending hours a week manually creating bills in Xero from customer tax invoices (RCTIs)?

No app can do this for you – and yet it is still possible to make it work. How? You modify it.

Few have realised the options available with cloud software; you can build just the feature you need or find someone to build it for you.

Businesses don’t have to be consumers of designed-for-the-masses automation offered by cloud applications. They can zero in on an area of inefficiency or a gap and come up with a solution to overcome it.

Conversations that used to revolve around limitations and what can’t be done, are now focused on ‘let’s see how it can be done’, and let’s make it happen.

More and more of our conversations with businesses these days revolve around APIs, integrations and custom software development. Suddenly, all business owners and accounting professional talk about APIs.
So let’s do a quick re-cap to make sure we all understand what it is.

What is an API?

The Application Programming Interface (API) is the part of a software application that ‘talks’ to or exchanges data with other applications. Take an accounting package for example.

Users click on buttons in the User Interface (UI) to create an invoice, display a contact, or retrieve a list of transactions. Software applications click on “virtual buttons” in the Application Programming Interface (API) to do the same thing.

So an expense automation application would use the API to create invoices in the accounting app; a reporting dashboard tool would use the “get list of transactions” API to obtain data for KPI analysis.

What can APIs do?

Cloud software typically comes with an API “out of the box” so other applications can carry out basic activities within that app. This is why we can automatically connect third-party cloud apps to accounting packages such as Xero or Intuit QuickBooks Online. The add-ons use the accounting app’s API to send and receive information.

Innovative businesses can also build their own custom solutions. They can take advantage of APIs to streamline, automate and enhance software they already use.

In its most complete form, you could fully integrate two software solutions using APIs. We have developed integrations between Unleashed and Handshake, and between Fedelta POS and Xero, both were going to be temporary solutions but have been working away for years now.

So why isn’t everyone doing it?

Well, I believe we had the same question half a decade ago when we started talking about the cloud. It was new, and it was just a matter of time before everyone started to use it.

I believe that it is the same for custom software development with cloud apps. Many still have the outdated view that developing software is a complex matter which costs a lot and never finishes on time. Phrases such as “scope creep” and “budget overrun” come to mind.

The reality is that software vendors make it a priority to make their APIs reliable and easy to use. If third parties use their APIs then this is a valuable currency for software vendors. It weaves their product into the greater cloud ecosystem.

The kind of integrations mentioned here are not hard to develop and can continue to work as temporary solutions, until that feature becomes available in your favourite software package.

How do I get started?

You need a good developer for a start. Ideally you need to find someone who understands your business needs and can design a solution that will work well, tie in nicely with your overall systems architecture, and will not introduce new problems with it.

You also need to make sure that you are dealing with developers that will be around for a while and have the capacity to support you. The whole area of selecting a developer is a subject for another article.

For today, I hope I have convinced you that the API is another tool in your technology toolbox that will help your business grow.