Completely Modern: Improving the Digital Experience with APIs
April 11, 2022
The world is an ever-changing place, which means there is always something new to do to improve applications running on the IBM i platform or to integrate them with other applications or interfaces on new types of devices. This is an important aspect of modernization, often linking back-end databases and applications and the front-end interfaces through which end users access those applications – both of which need to be modernized, and often independently.
This is made possible through Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, and if IBM i customers have tens to hundreds of databases and hundreds to thousands of applications on their systems, eventually they will end up with thousands to tens of thousands of APIs that enable the sharing of functionality of their applications and also provide a way to reach and use the functionality of other software.
One of the biggest areas we see developing is what we call digital solutions. A digital solution is many things, but most of all it’s about how the IT organization enables the business to deliver better digital experiences to customers, partners and internal employees. It includes all sorts of things, and it’s by no means an exhaustive list. The APIs behind digital solutions are created to help businesses do better. This can include improving business processes, such as making it easier for customers to order items or making more useful information available to self-service shoppers. The one improvement we hear most often is the need to reduce the time customer service reps spend on the phone with people, providing answers, processing orders, sending invoices, whatever. Or, manual processes that have people in the middle are automated so that two different systems can integrate and manage that process automatically. There is also good integration of information stored in IBM i systems with third-party applications or shopping carts, where customers need to exchange information stored in the IBM i system, be it prices, inventory, product numbers and descriptions, and so on.
Like anything new to the IBM i platform, such as application refacing or web application development from scratch or integration with third-party applications, API development is also new to some. IBM i programmers. So they need help through programming services, which we offer, or through products like our WebSmart or X-Elevate, which was launched last September and detailed in the four hundred at this moment. X-Elevate is a tool born out of necessity and was created nearly four years ago specifically because Fresche Solutions needed to automate the creation of free-form RPG applications and APIs for large engagements. modernization and application development.
Some of our customers use API middleware or various open source tools to manage their API links between applications and interfaces, but there are also many custom API builds. We work with organizations to help them understand, adopt and implement the best approach for them – and teach IBM i shops how APIs can be used for integration and best practices for developing them in a myriad of languages . Then they can be disabled and running, creating new applications or extending old ones.
What we see most often, and it won’t surprise any IBM i store, is that companies often need a very specific set of APIs for their applications and third-party integrations. There are very few companies that already have such APIs in place or the tools to build them. And we also see situations where companies are being acquired, or buying out companies, and they need to be able to integrate their various internal systems. The parent company may, for example, have SAP applications and the acquired company has in-house applications written in RPG, and sometimes there are sister companies where information needs to be shared between different application stacks. This generates a lot of API activity because no one wants to replace working applications right after making an acquisition. This can be a long-term goal – and it’s often a long-term goal that never materializes, by the way. The disruption and risk are not worth the limited benefits of global change like this.
It’s also why we often work with ERP vendors to build API integrations into their applications so customers can expose those APIs to their customers and partners. Another example is that a customer wanted to build a native mobile application from scratch and needed to integrate directly with the Db2 for i database.
The main thing IBM i stores need to do is think about how new digital solutions and APIs are part of their app strategy. APIs are not an afterthought or a bolt-on, they are absolutely an integral part of applications. The other thing they need to realize is that anything is possible, that you can actually integrate IBM i with anything and anything can integrate with IBM i, and they can do with RPG, PHP, Java. Node.js, Python or whatever. And finally, organizations don’t have to go it alone – we bring the expertise, processes, tools and services to help start IBM i Stores, today, and become self-sufficient in the future if it’s what they want.
Anyone interested in learning more about different implementation approaches can watch the special session I’m hosting on April 19 at 2 p.m. EDT with my colleague Greg Patterson – Register for Improve business processes and IBM i integration with digital solutions.
Marcel Sarrasin is product manager at Fresh Solutions.
This content is sponsored by Freshche Solutions.
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