7 min read

APIs Fuelling the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sep 6, 2021 8:00:00 AM

There is still a common idea that the word manufacturing is associated with old factories, building dirty machines, and the din of metal clanging. Not only has this idea been wrong for decades – think of the impressive assembly lines of car manufacturers – it is now being blown out of the water by the fourth industrial revolution. 

Manufacturing now encompasses microchips that power smartphones, automobiles that drive themselves, and rovers that can fling themselves to Mars and send back analysis of rocks. The fourth industrial age isn’t merely crossing borders with ever-increasing ease; it is taking us beyond our planet. 

As Klaus Schwabb, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, points out in his essays covering the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

“Fourth Industrial Revolution’s technologies, such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing, are rapidly changing the way humans create, exchange, and distribute value. As occurred in the previous revolutions, this will profoundly transform institutions, industries, and individuals.” 

These essays were written in 2017, four years before this article was published. Some transformative changes have already been accelerated by the challenges the globe has faced in 2020 and 2021. The emergence of Zoom and Slack as integral parts of our working lives is down to, in part, the technological advances of the fourth industrial age. 

Supply chains have had to innovate in the face of restrictions that would have been unimaginable in 2019, and of course, a certain ship blocking the Suez for a week. Such disruptions have forced companies to turn to cloud computing and software to find innovative solutions.  

The fourth industrial age is here. 

The Role of APIs 

Where previous industrial revolutions were powered by coal and oil, this age is being fuelled by data. As we’ve pointed out before in our blog, each year is seeing record numbers of data being generated and consumed - and much like the oil refineries of the 20th century, APIs play a pivotal role in refining data fit for use.  

APIs act as a data refinery in the context of moving between software and programs.  

A classic example can be seen in e-commerce, where customers input data on the front-end before that information is sent to the back-end to be processed. APIs come in before the data reaches the back-end, filters the unnecessary details, and delivers a nice clean batch of data to the relevant areas.  

Here’s how it works: 

  1. A customer inputs the details needed to complete the order on the website. 
  2. The information is fed through to APIs - each software would have its own, for example, logistics, stock control, and billing. 
  3. Each API only lets through the relevant data needed for each component to complete the process. 

It’s important to remember this process takes seconds, sometimes even less, to complete. The almost invisible presence of APIs is a testament to its role in the digital economy, ensuring smooth processing of data and reducing the risk of system breakdowns. 

APIs Leading to Open Systems 

Automation has been around for decades, increasingly shaping business and manufacturing processes. However, there continues to be a need for a human element - whether it’s to switch on programs or on-site monitoring. It has also been a challenge to integrate systems to facilitate open-ended automation.  

What APIs and advanced API management systems can do is take the data in multiple formats and filter it through to different platforms. In doing so, companies can integrate and automate processes far more efficiently than in the past. 

The key is to build an API ecosystem within a business or even across a supply chain to enable open-ended automation. In order to achieve this level of connectivity, we need to split the APIs into two distinct groups: Analytics and Command & Control: 

Analytics APIs 

Analytics APIs can be used in two ways: 

  • Pull together historical data: As companies transition from on-premise legacy systems to cloud technology, APIs play an integral role in pulling old data from different programs. That data can then be pushed through to new systems and help teams understand customer trends, behavior, and historical performance. 
  • Monitor real-time data: Companies by their nature are complex organizations with multiple operations and processes. API management platforms can bring together the data into one place and give businesses an easy-to-follow overview of performance. 

The two facets of analytical APIs are integral to business operations. For instance, data from a warehouse management system (WMS) can be paired with billing software to monitor delivery and order fulfillment rates. Another example could be an e-commerce store looking to combine website visits with order completions to check on conversions. 

Command & Control APIs 

In a world of global supply chains, the ability of companies to operate across borders is essential. Command and control APIs help to facilitate this process through cloud technology. A good example can be seen in a graphic design company with its design team in Asia and a printing facility in the US.  

APIs enable the transfer of the designs to the printer in the US, with the only human input being from the designer in Asia. This process can be repeated anywhere in the world, wherever the clients are. As global business processes and supply chains demand ever greater integration, APIs can be the hidden key unlocking the pathway for data to pass through with ease. 

APIs Paving the Way to Integrated Systems 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution may feel like a distant concept, but it is here right now. Manufacturers, supply chains, and other businesses transform operations and processes to become more automated and streamlined than ever before.  

APIs are at the heart of this revolution, serving as a vital transition point for data to flow between different systems. It is essential for businesses to build an interconnected network of APIs to take full advantage of technologies, making it possible to bring automation to the next level. As we look forward to sunnier days ahead, now is the time to get set for the next phase of economic growth and the corresponding surge of innovation. 

Peter Edlund

Written by Peter Edlund