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Q&A: The role of RESTful APIs in B2B integration

RESTful APIs are making their way into the enterprise, and now they are poised to make an impact on B2B integration. Ken Yagen explains why and how they can be leveraged effectively.

As the world becomes more and more mobile, RESTful APIs are being used in an increasing number of essential business...

functions. But does REST have a place in B2B integration -- and are companies willing to use it? Ken Yagen, vice president of products at MuleSoft -- a San Francisco company that sells integration platforms -- talks about using RESTful APIs for B2B integration and the specific capabilities they can help provide. This is the second part of our Q&A with Yagen. In part one, which you can find here, we talked about the use of APIs for B2B integration.

Do you find that people are concerned when you mention using REST for B2B integration as opposed to other traditional electronic data interchange (EDI) approaches?

Ken YagenKen Yagen

Ken Yagen: The difference is that, traditionally, REST has not had well-defined contracts like they have with SOAP, Witsel or traditional EDI [that] define the contract in order to ensure the 'transactionality' of it and [ensure] security. I think you can address the security needs; the main thing is ensuring the transactionality needs.

[The biggest things are] ensuring that you have an agreed contract with how you're going to transact, how you're going to acknowledge that transaction, what the data sources [are] supposed to look like [and] how errors get managed. And that's where something like RESTful API modeling language can help you define those contracts. [Having] specific templates for 'traits,' as they call them in REST, for these tech transactions will help people get more comfortable with that.

Is the use of RESTful APIs for B2B integration in direct response to mobile or mobile growth?

Yagen: B2B transactions tend to be between the systems and the application systems themselves. ... You may need to trigger those transactions, edit some of the data that needs to go into the transactions [or] have visibility into the transactions from a mobile perspective.

And on the back end, [REST can help] if [EDI transaction data] needs to be translated up into API. I think where mobile comes in is unlocking that data from these EDI systems and making it an acceptable, communicable application, [helping businesses] respond more quickly to either market conditions or opportunities to supply a new product or to refill a particular order. So, I think that's where you'll see the intersection with mobile apps.

And REST is making that process easier?

Yagen: On that side, it's really a bridge ... being able to have access to the data [out of a system that] may only be communicating through EDI documents, [take] that EDI document and [translate the information] into a JSON format. So, EDI may still be the means in which in the business transaction [occurs] between the two companies, but [you can translate] information into REST and JSON for these applications.

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