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Big Picture API Strategy Boosts Bottom Line
By Josh Birdwell, Senior Director, Guest Systems and Application Development, Pilot Flying J
With more than 750 retail locations across the U.S. and Canada and more than 28,000 team members, Pilot Flying J is the largest operator of travel centers in North America. To keep our business moving, boost the bottom line and support our customers, guests and partners, we utilize application programming interfaces, or more commonly, APIs, to provide a reliable experience – internally and externally.
APIs have been called “the building blocks of the app economy,” and that’s not a stretch. I think of them as translators – when two systems can’t communicate, APIs become the intermediary or translator that help the systems talk to each other to share beneficial information. These connections benefit us every day through web and mobile applications in our professional and personal lives.
We operate in an ever-increasingly connected world – phones, screen devices, vehicles, trucks, refrigerators, et al. Naturally, our customers, guests and partners expect accurate data when they need it and where they want it.
We have to be flexible and responsive through an API-first strategy. It’s better to first build the API and then build web and mobile on top of it, rather than the opposite approach. It will require more time on the front end to focus on big picture strategy, but it pays off on the back end.
Agility through API strategy expansion
I’ve witnessed firsthand how expanding from traditional, one-to-one or single use APIs to a front-loaded enterprise model increases agility and the speed of business.
In the early stages of API development, it’s important to focus your strategy on the bigger picture. How can you reuse this API? Will you use standard coding? When we focus on other uses, we proactively build layers above systems that can be expanded later.
Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the standard and future of how we do business and interact with our partners is through API
If you don’t take this approach, the cost is much higher and time-consuming. With system changes, growth and scale, you have to keep updating those single use APIs, as well as the systems each one supports. By taking a layered approach however, you minimize change and maximize reuse so you’re not rewriting code or duplicating work. My recommendation: take the development time opened up by a big picture API approach and focus on new innovation instead.
API library: a priceless resource
Writing productive, standard code for APIs versus rewriting single use APIs makes systems flexible and businesses nimble. When you stick to API standards, which better integrate your product, you build a library of API tools and connectors that the entire enterprise can leverage. Thus, you’re writing less code in a quicker manner, while stabilizing your APIs. By thinking about reuse on the front end, you’re able to minimize costs down the road.
At Pilot Flying J, that infrastructure has been a priceless resource. We are flexible enough to provide constant data through our APIs without having to rewrite the specifications when changes are made. For an IT shop within a demanding and fast-paced industry, the API first strategy increases flexibility and agility. And from a chief information officer’s perspective, having as tacked library of standard API language accelerates the pace at which the business can deploy new technology.
How can this strategy inform your customers and boost your bottom line? Here’s a real-world example.
In the trucking and travel center industry, correct pricing and store information is critical to our customers and guests. Through APIs, we are able to deliver that accurate data in real-time to other digital properties for consumption by our guests. Whether it is sharing our data directly with a trucking company customer for them to disseminate to their drivers, or with an app that motorists use to find nearby fuel, we use APIs to provide that information in real-time as opposed to relying on crowd-sourced entries.
We shifted to API technology to better serve our partners, customers, and guests. When our guests are on the road and in need of a place to stop, we are able to provide them reliable information at the right time and in the right place. The capabilities that APIs provide our business are critical to delivering on our promise to connecting people and places with comfort, care and a smile at every stop.
Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the standard and future of how we do business and interact with our partners is through API. My closing advice: Avoid the sea of unreliable data that exists on the internet by offering shareable data that you can own with APIs.