Technology & Data

API’s Key Role in the Digital Transformation of the Supply Chain

July 08 2020

From Track & Trace to pricing strategies or route optimization, third party services directly plugged into internal tools can significantly improve the efficiency of the Supply Chain industry. An API can reduce the cost of the implementation of an IT solution by a factor of 2 or 3, compared to that of internal development.

Managing data coming from different providers is inherent to the Supply Chain industry. A complex exercise, for which the potential of digitalization is still far from being fully exploited. Upply strongly believes in connectivity between services. Integrated systems are a game changer and APIs play an important role in that transformation. This is why our own solutions are all available through APIs that can be connected to any IT system or third-party platform.

1/ What is an API?

API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface, which is “a computing interface which defines interactions between multiple software intermediaries”.

In layman’s terms, it is a simplified connection between two software solutions. A bridge that carries information from one side (server) to another (client) with predetermined rules that are public and clearly defined by the server. One of today’s most famous and used APIs is Google Maps. It allows any software (Apps, websites, Excel…) to obtain access to maps within a few seconds. Hundreds of millions of users are calling this API every day from all around the world. Its popularity comes from the quality of the software: Google Maps not only provides one of the most detailed maps available, but it also brings a simplicity of connection to any software, thanks to its clear and simple API.

Google Maps is not the only cutting-edge example of an API that has changed our daily life. APIs also allow businesses to drive exponential results. It can be simple services such as weather forecasts or more complex ones such as pre-trained machine learning algorithms. In the supply chain industry, we can name the PTV route optimizer, Shippeo track & trace services, and last but not least, Upply transportation price Benchmark and its Marketplace smart matching algorithms.

2/ No success without rigorous attention to rules

Thanks to APIs, any corporation can today integrate a third party’s service into its internal tools with limited development. It can reduce the cost of implementation of an IT solution by a factor of 2 or 3 compared to internal development, hence helping to speed up the digital transformation.

However, this is not magic! As we mentioned before, the rules governing the flow of information must be carefully defined. The rules will tell the client which information it can access, how to do it, and in which format it will receive it.

If you go to a pharmacy to buy paracetamol, the pharmacist will ask some preliminary questions: “Do you prefer a specific brand? Which format (tablets, capsules, oral suspension…)? Quantity?” It is exactly the same with an API, you first need to see the documentation of what the API is offering, then you will send the specifications to the server to receive the data you are looking for within milliseconds. Upply’s pharmacists are ready to answer your needs!

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Docteur en Économie (École Polytechnique) et diplômé de la Toulouse School of Economics, Thomas est spécialiste des plateformes digitales. Data scientist de formation, il a rejoint Upply au début du projet et en est aujourd'hui le directeur en charge des Données et de la R&D.