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Implementing an Effective Customer-facing API Library

Aug. 25, 2022
By Fernando Spada

Sponsored by Orbweaver

By quickly and efficiently connecting internal systems and any external systems to a company’s internal resources, application programming interfaces (APIs) help automate tasks, simplify processes and give users access to modern capabilities. Because many established companies use on-premises, monolithic software that wasn’t designed to “play well” with others, APIs help fill that gap and help organizations leverage new capabilities without having to replace their core systems.

“You don’t have to be a tech company to reap the benefits of APIs — the opportunity exists in every industry,” Harvard Business Review points out. “Some sectors are being compelled to offer APIs due to regulation (like healthcare and banking), whereas others are prompted by industry interoperability (like telecommunications) or disruption (like retail, media, and entertainment).”

Distributors and suppliers in the electronic component sector are well positioned to take advantage of APIs—both for themselves and for their customers. By implementing a customer-facing API library, these organizations can put more computing in their buyers’ hands and help them reduce manual processes, automate functions and streamline their overall procurement activity. 

Streamlining the BOM Quoting Process

A lot of data gathering goes into the process of quoting a bill of materials (BOM), which typically comprises many individual component parts and their part numbers, characteristics, lead times, pricing, country of origin and so forth. Most of this data is shared between suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and even the brands that ultimately sell the products.

When quoting, all of this data has to be moved from one place to another—a process normally tackled either using Excel files, email or more sophisticated electronic data interchange (EDI) documents. Some companies have experimented with RosettaNet for collaboration, but for the most part, the BOM quoting process remains highly manual, time-intensive and error prone.

More recently, companies have been using APIs plus JSON, the latter of which involves very structured documents that can be exchanged via the web. The companies receiving and sharing this data want not only to receive it, but also to transact with, act upon and collaborate on it with their supply chain partners in a useful and efficient manner. Getting there isn’t easy: While IT teams may be able to handle the integration work in-house, for many companies, the initiatives are anything but simple. If not handled properly, these projects can create more pain than value, particularly regarding data security.

At Orbweaver, we not only handle the API development and integration work, but we also handle your data with utmost care. We have everything that you need to be able to protect your data and keep it secure. We offer a field-tested, robust set of APIs that allow you to offer a customer-facing library, including the ability to quote, respond to and source quotes, complete the BOM procurement or—depending on your position in the supply chain—offer that data yourself via the API as a service to other business partners.

First Steps to Success

When setting up an internal or customer-facing API library, think about how your upstream suppliers and/or downstream customers use the information you’ll provide. Also, consider how you transfer your internal information using different systems, tools and applications. In nearly every case, you can find ways to add automation and digitization to the process to help improve data flows, reduce waste and save money. 

Your next step is to begin sharing information with a trusted partner like Orbweaver—a step that will set you on the path to implementing an API library, even if you don’t have the resources in-house to develop these interfaces. Once in place, the APIs will help organizations using lengthy BOMs comprising thousands of part numbers and multiple distributors get the job done faster and with less intervention. And while 100% automation may not always be possible, adding any level of automation to a highly manual process can yield impressive results.

The customer-facing API library presents significant advantages for the supplier or manufacturer that wants to expose more of their part number data to different distributors—or different end customers—and in a way where users can just grab the data from their APIs. Companies can enable this by allowing the data to feed this API library, then exposing that library to their customers, distributors and/or other supply chain partners.

Looking ahead, we expect more companies to use APIs as those critical links between their existing internal systems and more modern, automated and streamlined applications that make jobs easier, save companies money and enable higher productivity levels.

Fernando Spada is chief marketing and revenue officer for Orbweaver.

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