A few months ago, I talked about developing a 5-Day Plan to Learning Twitter. In it, I mentioned using Twitter chats as a way to engage with other professionals. A common platform for participating in a Twitter chat is TweetChat. Of course, that’s when it’s working.
Twitter is having API issues at the moment, We’ll let you know when they are fixed.
— #TweetChat (@TweetChat) April 27, 2015
I’m sure it can happen to anyone and the problem is fixed by now; that’s not the point. Hopefully we all realize that downtime is a part of doing business these days. But it did occur to me that API is another technology term that HR pros need to know.
So I reached out to my friend Chris Lennon, vice president of product management at SilkRoad. As you know, SilkRoad is a longtime partner with HR Bartender and they offer talent apps which integrate with their talent management suite. What better person to enlighten us about API! So go grab a cup of coffee (or cuppa tea) and find a nice quiet place to get your geek on…
Chris, what is Application Program Interface (API) and can you give us an example of how API works?
[Chris] If you really want to get your geek on, you can reference Wikipedia to learn more about APIs. However for most of us, myself included, that’s a little too deep for what we need as HR practitioners.
An API is basically a way to send a request from one piece of software and get a response or initiate an action from another piece of software. Software applications often leverage APIs within themselves. You don’t need to know they exist unless you’re a developer for that software.
For most of us, an API is a generic term for having the ability to tie into a vendor or partner’s software programmatically. Non-developer types care about APIs when they are published, or made available to customers/users outside of the vendor. For example, a vendor might publish an API that allows customers to add users to their Talent Management module. This is probably the most common use case that would allow someone technical on the customer side (information technology) to build a connector to that API from their HRMS to add users to the Talent Management module in real time.
There are less common use cases where companies pull data out of the Talent Management module to populate information in other mission critical systems. For example, one of our customers pulls training completion from our learning management system to prevent pilots from flying airplanes if they haven’t taken and passed all of the required training (in conjunction with other requirements).
What is a Web API? How does it compare to a software API?
[Chris] Web API, or often ‘Web service’, is an API framework for building HTTP requests that can be used by browsers, mobile phones and tablets. It is more lightweight which gives it more flexibility to work across multiple devices/browsers, like smart phones. It’s also typically public which means there’s a broad community you can learn and borrow from.
Modern Web APIs usually leverage Representational State Transfer, or so called RESTful Web services , which are a more direct style of API that allow software providers to target cross-devices and generate content like images, pdf files, etc..
Does API exist in every piece of software we use? What about mobile apps?
[Chris] While there are examples of software that do not or cannot use APIs, most modern software uses APIs. Yes, native (as opposed to browser-based) mobile apps most certainly use APIs to allow data to transfer from your mobile device to the vendor and vice versa.
Most of the time when I hear about API, it’s in reference to a tech company (like Apple) releasing its API. Why would that be important to businesses? And to HR?
[Chris] When a company ‘releases its API’, they are making it ‘public’ for other software developers to tie into and leverage. This way, content created in one place can be easily shared with other sites/applications. Examples might include embedding a YouTube video on a LinkedIn feed or sharing photos from sites like Facebook and LinkedIn with your intranet or Exchange server (Microsoft Outlook).
It is important to businesses and HR because it can provide new tools. For example, when LinkedIn or Facebook make their APIs available, companies like SilkRoad can tie them into our Recruiting module allowing companies to not only have the benefits of an applicant tracking system but they can feed their job openings to the company’s Facebook page, or they can allow candidates to apply using their LinkedIn profile.
Is API and releasing API secure?
[Chris] Unfortunately, APIs are not inherently secure or not secure. There will be some APIs that are more secure than others. What makes an APIs secure is the developers building secure code. It’s a never-ending battle and unfortunately a reality of doing business on mobile devices and in the cloud.
It’s important that, before a company decides to dedicate resources to build software to tie into an API, they understand how seriously the API provider takes security. It’s important that software be built with an intent to make it secure form the start. Building in security after the fact is more difficult. It’s also important that the API provider requires their employees to take security training and they take measures to keep their staff aware of the latest security threats and trends.
The same holds true for consumers of the API. When you decide to build to an API, make sure your team takes security seriously. No software is 100% secure; it is the responsibility of all of us: vendors, practitioners and consumers to stay vigilant so we can continue to create new tools that make it easier for employees and HR practitioners to do our jobs.
Last question, what do you see as the future of API?
[Chris] Space travel. Teleportation. Autonomous flying cars. Robot maids and butlers. In some respect, I’m joking. But in all seriousness, APIs will continue to allow communication between software applications and a multitude of devices.
Most new software is built ‘API first’ and very API heavy and even the vendor’s own user interface is a customer for the API. This will continue to open new opportunities for HR. Your smartphone will start interacting with your autonomous car and allow you to interview a candidate while sitting in traffic. After you decide to hire that person, you will direct Siri or whatever your electronic personal assistant is to send the candidate through the approval process in your ATS so you can get an offer letter sent out, potentially before you even make to the office.
[Tweet “Here’s everything #HR pros need to know about API”]
A HUGE thanks to Chris for sharing his expertise on this subject. Be sure to follow the SilkRoad blog to learn more about how technology is changing human resources.
I must say I’ve heard the term API tossed around in conversations and thought I had the gist of it, but Chris really helped me understand the importance. As HR pros, we don’t have to become an API expert but we do need to know enough and know how to ask good questions to gain better understanding.
Image taken in Chicago but nowhere near the SilkRoad offices courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby