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TechTalk: What's an API and how is that different from using a Portal?
Denise Williams's Blog
March 27 2023

APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are a set of tools that allow software systems to communicate with each other through standardized protocols. This enables automation and integration of different software systems, resulting in increased productivity and accuracy. In contrast, portals are web-based platforms that offer limited access to external systems and often require manual data entry, leading to potential errors and duplication of work. While portals may be a good preliminary step for some businesses, APIs offer a superior solution that is more efficient and less prone to errors. Setting up APIs requires some initial effort, but the long-term benefits make it a worthwhile investment, especially for businesses looking to stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

Let's break this down a little further....

APIs, Application Programming Interfaces, can be defined as a set of protocols, tools, and standards that defines how different software systems can interact with each other. APIs enable software applications to communicate with each other by exchanging data and requests in a standardized way. APIs can be used to integrate different software systems, create custom applications, and automate workflows. I like to describe these as a ‘digital handshake’ – passing certain defined fields/data back and forth between the systems as part of a workflow.

Whereas, Portals, can be defined as a web-based platform that provides a single point of access to applications, data sources, and services. It is typically used for content management, collaboration, and communication purposes. A portal is often customized to meet specific user needs and may include features such as role-based access control. 
I like to describe these as a ‘digital door’, generally it’s a very limited access into an external system that you manually interact with.

Developers or technology specialist set up APIs.  Once APIs are set up, it frees up a lot of manual steps in workflows and often brings new levels of productivity and accuracy as data transmits and drops into the respective systems – as agreed. Imagine sending an order, and it drops right into your order queue – all the details you need to take immediate action.

Whereas Portals are just a URL and password, typically. Portals are manual for the User, and sometimes means duplicate entry between two systems. Yet, portals can be a good preliminary step in maturing your business collaboration with clients, customers, and/or vendors. If you are asked to use a portal, understand how that will work with your own workflows, expectations, and access management.

If you can swing it, APIs are the way to go, and outperform portals, largely due to the manual work required for portals and potential errors. APIs require some set up, but the return on the investment is quickly recovered. Being able to streamline and accelerate business process can set you apart from your competition. Clients wanting ‘tech savvy’ business partners will lean into those delivering with today’s technology.

If you have a SOT TechTalk topic you’d like to suggest, please email me at 
Denise Williams, Real Document Solutions
Thank you.