"APIs are the data delivery mechanisms of the future."
Infogroup Targeting Solutions is the leading provider of analytically driven consumer and business data and database marketing solutions for increasing sales and customer loyalty. While the company had been using SOAP-based APIs internally for many years, they recently introduced their first open API built as a RESTful Web service.
Brandi Johansen, director of product management at Infogroup, has been behind Infogroup's API project and their new developer portal. She articulates how and why Infogroup adopted a new API strategy.
Why did Infogroup adopt an open API strategy?
Infogroup compiles and provides data on both consumers and businesses for use by our partners and clients. Our data is used in a variety of ways, everything from phone book searches to business information on our client's partners. We recognize the need to bring more real-time data to the developer to meet the growing demand for location and time-specific applications—an API is the best way to do this. The traditional form of data delivery such as tapes, DVDs, and actually sending hard drives is a dying part of our industry. Providing access to our data via APIs has come along as an important new way for clients to access our data quickly and in real time.
What APIs does Infogroup provide today?
We have been using APIs internally since about 2006, but we just recently launched our first open API called Infoconnect. Infoconnect lets developers connect to the Infogroup Data Axle™, our real-time data platform. With Infoconnect, developers can easily access the high-value data available in the Data Axle™ to create or enhance their web/mobile/custom applications or sites. Having access to real-time data provides significant benefits to the developer community as they continue to innovate around social, mobile, and local data sets.
Who is the target user of the Infoconnect API?
Infoconnect is designed for our partners who want to utilize data in combination with their own as well as for independent developers who are building and outsourcing data to others through third-party apps. Before we offered the Infoconnect API, application developers would need to buy a full license to our data. They would get information on about 15 million businesses shipped to them on a hard drive, and they would have to figure out how to store it. The API has been a game-changer for us and for developers who want to build an app around our data. It's also definitely changed the game in the data industry by enabling more flexibility.
How has your API approach evolved over time?
At first, in 2006, we opened up a very simple service via APIs for internal use only. Our second API release was a large, enterprise SOAP API. This was not easy to integrate, and it was bulky. All our APIs today are RESTful and responses come in either JSON or XML. We're really happy we changed from SOAP-based to REST-based at the beginning of 2012.
How are you working with Apigee?
Our developer portal is built in Apigee Enterprise, and we use everything the Apigee platform has to offer, including analytics tools, team management, and so on. We also worked with the Apigee team to build a SOAP wrapper for our API. Surprisingly, we work with major enterprises who still aren't approved to work with anything but SOAP yet. But the up-and-coming developers—they aren't even messing with SOAP, because REST is where APIs are going. Apigee has helped us stay ahead of the pack, while meeting the needs of all our clients.
What is your vision moving forward?
APIs are the data delivery mechanism of the future. Providing real-time updates to our data enables clients to fully take advantage of our API. This will soon include changes to specific businesses—which will be exposed immediately to enable our clients to tailor results to customer interests. For example, if a restaurant shuts down, you can know immediately and avoid the disappointment and hassle of driving to a closed business. Real-time data becomes real-time data, and the only way to deliver this is through an API.
What advice would you give to organizations just beginning their API journey?
Take a good, long hard look at your core competencies internally. What makes your business special, what makes it tick? Then you will know what people will want to consume through an API. Once you determine that, a simple design and accurate documentation are pivotal in successful API adoption. We revisit and update our documentation often, even outside of feature additions.