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Unified API: All you need to know

Unified APIs help developers integrate once with a common data model to get instant access to multiple 3rd party apps within a category. Read to learn more

Today, integrations have become a necessity considering the current market landscape. On one hand, integrations can help businesses better utilize their features and focus only on building core product functionalities. On the other hand, there is a potential loss of customer base if a product doesn’t offer integration with other customer tools. Irrespective of whatever the reason is, integrations are integral for business survival. 

However, building and managing native integrations in-house can be a daunting task, considering they are complicated, expensive and their volume and scope is ever increasing. Therefore, the integration market has seen the steady rise of unified APIs. This article will help you understand the diverse aspects of unified API, benefits and how you can choose the right one. 

What is a unified API?

Most businesses leverage APIs that come along with applications. However, building integrations based on different rules and protocols for different application APIs and maintaining it is highly resource intensive. Therefore, businesses are moving towards unified API. Essentially, a unified API connects several APIs within a category of software products, like CRM or HRIS into a single API and normalizes data exchange. 

Different APIs can be based on different rules of SOAP, REST, GraphQL, etc. However, a unified API ensures that your team has to just understand the rules and architecture of the unified API. It adds an additional abstraction layer to ensure that all data models and schemas are normalized into one data model of the unified API. 

Rise of unified API

There are several factors that have contributed to the rise of unified API. As the volume of integrations have seen an exponential increase, the use of APIs has become more pronounced. With more APIs, complexity and costs of integrations are also increasing. Therefore, the reliance on unified API has seen an increase, guided by the following factors:

Increased API use

  • 90% of the entire developer population across the world uses APIs
  • 69% developers work with third party APIs
  • 98% of large enterprises consider APIs an essential part of their digital transformation strategy
  • 53% enterprises are consuming 3rd party APIs for developing products and services

High cost of in-house integrations

  • Integrations can take anywhere between 2 weeks to 3 months to build, keeping an average of 4 weeks
  • Building integrations require expertise and bandwidth of engineering teams, including QA engineers, product managers and software developers, whose salary can range from USD 80K to USD 125K
  • Therefore, the average cost per integration comes to USD 10K, and companies generally use 100+ integrations, at least 15-20 at a lower spectrum, leading to USD 150K- 200K of integration costs

Building and managing integrations is complex

  • APIs within the same software category can have different schemas and data models, requiring engineering teams to gain knowledge of different rules and architecture
  • Full version APIs might not be freely available for all applications, some might come at an additional cost or premium upgrade
  • Maintaining integrations can be difficult, especially when an API fails, and customer success teams lack the expertise to address these challenges 

Together these factors have been instrumental in the rise of unified API as a popular approach to facilitate seamless integrations for businesses.  

Key components of unified API

Let’s quickly walk through some of the top traits or components which form the building blocks for a good unified API. Essentially, if your unified API has the following, you are in good hands:

Data normalization

Different APIs have different schemas, data models, protocols, etc. A good unified API facilitates data normalization. This suggests that the unified API takes care of understanding the different architectures, syntax, protocols, etc. so you don’t have to. For instance, within your HRIS software, your attendance management application might have a different dataset for employee name, while your payroll software can have a distinct syntax. A unified API will ensure that all datasets across applications are standardized. 

Data normalization goes beyond that to ensure that irrespective of the APIs, all applications have a common authentication, pagination and filtering, which prevents developers from putting in extra effort to build custom logics in the code. 

Finally, a good unified API builds a layer of abstraction on top of other endpoints in REST, SOAP, etc. so developers only need to focus on one architecture and rules.

Transparency

While a key factor determining the success of any unified API is its ability to create an additional layer of abstraction, it is important to maintain transparency while doing so. There might be instances where you might need to debug data that you receive from the unified API. Therefore, it is extremely important to have a unified API which gives you complete visibility to address or resolve issues that might come along the way. 

A good unified API ensures complete transparency, especially when it comes to debugging and a visibility into direct requests and responses from APIs. 

Adaptability

Undoubtedly, normalization is what defines a unified API. However, it is equally important to factor in a provision for adaptability or flexibility, should you need it. Right from the option to add a custom query to servicing specific required fields, a good API must ensure that you are able to customize in case the need arises. For instance, while you have normalized data, you may want to directly interact with your integrating application, adaptability in the unified API can help with the same. The API data must be fully accessible in code to customize anything needed. 

Benefits of unified API

Now that you understand what constitutes a good unified API, it is important to understand the benefits that unified API will bring along. These benefits can serve as a value demonstration for both engineering and business teams to embrace unified API. 

Faster time to market and scalability

Unified API allows engineering teams to go to the market faster with enhanced core product functionalities as time and bandwidth spent on building in-house integrations is eliminated. It enables accelerated addition or deletion of APIs from your product, creating the right market fit. At the same time, you can easily scale the number and volume of integrations for your product to meet customer demands, without worrying about time and cost associated with integrations. 

Reduced costs

As mentioned, building integrations with different APIs for different applications can be highly cost intensive. However, with a unified API, businesses can significantly save on multiple engineering hours billed towards building and maintaining integrations. There is a clear decrease in the hard and soft costs associated with integrations with a potential to save thousands of dollars per integration.  

Reduced maintenance responsibilities

Maintaining several APIs for integrations can be as difficult or at times more difficult than building integrations, as the former is an ongoing activity. A unified API takes out the friction from maintaining integrations and takes care when an API fails, or the application undergoes an upgrade, etc. Also, maintenance responsibilities involve context switching for engineering teams, which leads to a significant wastage of time and efforts. A unified API bears full responsibility for troubleshooting, handling errors and all other maintenance related activities.  

Ease of documentation and KT

A unified API ensures that you don’t need to bury yourself in 1000s of pages of documentation for each and every integration or application API. Rather, it allows you to simply gain knowledge about the architecture and rules of the endpoint and authentication for the unified API. Invariably, the documentation is easy to understand and the knowledge transfer is also seamless because it is limited to one architecture. 

Standardized pagination

Pagination, filtering and sorting is an important element when it comes to integration for businesses. All these three elements help applications breakdown data in a way that is easier to consume and use for exchange. A unified API ensures that there is a standardization and uniformity between different formats of pagination, sorting and filtering among applications and it is extremely consistent. This prevents over-fetching or under-fetching of data, leading to more efficient data exchange. 

New revenue opportunities

Finally, a unified API helps you create new revenue or monetization opportunities for businesses by allowing them to offer premium services of connecting all HRIS or CRM platforms on an integrated platform. A unified API has the potential to help customers save time and cost, something they would be willing to pay a little extra for. 

Can unified API lead to better security?

A key concern for anyone using APIs or integrations is the security posture. As there is an exchange of data between different applications and systems, it is important that there is no unauthorized access or misuse of data which can lead to financial and reputational damage. A unified API can help achieve better security outcomes for B2B and B2C companies by facilitating:

Least privilege

An effective unified API will ensure that it follows the principle of least privilege when it comes to application and system access. It ensures that systems and users have the least access which is required to perform their roles successfully. This ensures that no application, system or user has even an iota of access that is not required by them. 

Continuous monitoring and logging

A unified API is expected to continuously monitor and log all changes, authentication requests and other activities and receive real time alerts by using advanced firewalls. Constant monitoring can be achieved with intrusion detection systems and application server isolation to prevent and block threats. 

Data classification

A good unified API classifies data to restrict and filter access. Data is often categorized between what is highly restricted, confidential and public to ensure tiered level of access and authentication for better security. 

Data encryption

Since data protection is a key element for security with a unified API, there are multiple levels of encryption in place. It involves encryption at rest, encryption in transit and application level encryption as well for restricted data. 

Infrastructure protection

Finally, a unified API ensures security by facilitating infrastructure protection. Security practices like network segregation, DDoS protection using load balancers, intrusion detection, together helps ensure high levels of security from a unified API. 

When to choose a unified API?

As a business, you can explore several ways in which you can facilitate integrations rather than building them in-house. However, there are a few instances when you should be using a unified API particularly.

Case I: When you want to integrate applications within the same category

A unified API is one of the best integration solutions if you wish to connect APIs or applications within the same category. For instance, there can be several CRM applications like Salesforce, Zoho, etc. that you might want to integrate, the same goes for HRIS, accounting and other categories. Therefore, a unified API can be a great solution if you have similar category applications to integrate. 

Case II: When you have different data models

Secondly, a major use case for unified API comes when you have applications which follow different datasets, models and architecture and you want to standardize and normalize data for exchange. A unified API will add an abstraction layer which will help you normalize data from different applications with diverse syntax into a uniform and standardized format. 

Case III: When you want to ensure data security

Next, when it comes to using a unified API, data security becomes a key benefit. Integrations and data exchange are vulnerable to unauthorized access and ensuring high levels of security is important. With factors like least privilege, encryption, infrastructure security, etc. a unified API is a good pathway to integration when security is a key parameter for you for decision making. 

Case IV: When you have limited domain expertise

There might be times when your team doesn’t have the domain expertise for a particular application you might be using and may not be well versed with the terminologies there. For instance, if you are using an HRIS application and your team lacks expertise in the HR and payroll space, chances are you won’t be able to understand different data nomenclatures being used. Here, using a unified API makes sense because it ensures accurate data mapping across applications. 

Case V: When you don’t want to spend engineering time in understanding several APIs

Finally, a unified API is the right choice if you don’t want to spend your engineering bandwidth in understanding and learning about different API, their endpoints and architecture. Different APIs are built on REST, SOAP, GraphQL, each of which requires a high level of expertise and understanding, pushing companies to invest in developer hiring with relevant skills and experience. However, when it comes to a unified API, the engineering teams only need to learn about one endpoint and develop knowledge of a single architecture. Usually, unified APIs are built on REST. Thus, you should go for a unified API if you don’t want to invest engineering time in API education. 

How to choose the right unified API?

If you have decided that a unified API is the way to go for you to facilitate better integrations for your business, there are a few factors you must keep in mind while selecting the right unified API among the different options available.

1. Coverage of API endpoints and applications

Start by evaluating how many API endpoints does the unified API cover. As you know that APIs can be built of REST, SOAP, GraphQL, it is important that your unified API covers them all and ensures that you have to learn the rules of a single architecture. At the same time, it is vital that it covers all or at least most of the applications or software that fall under the category you are looking for in a unified API. For instance, there can be thousands of applications within the HRIS category, you must evaluate if the unified API ensures that all HRIS applications or the ones that you use/ might need in the future are covered. Since you might be targeting customers from diverse backgrounds, they may use different applications within the same category, therefore, you must ensured all of them are covered. 

2. Data storage and security

Second, we mentioned that a good unified API provides you with a strong security posture.Therefore, it is important to check for the encryption and authentication models it uses. Furthermore, security parameters on least privilege, etc. must also be accounted for. A related factor to security is data storage. On the one hand, you must ensure that the unified API is compliant with data protection and other confidentiality laws, since they might have access to your and your customer’s data. On the other hand, it is equally important to ensure that the unified API doesn’t create a copy of customer data which can lead to security risks and additional storage costs. 

3. Pricing structure

Next, you need to check the pricing structure or pricing model being offered by the unified API. Pricing structures can be based on per customer along with platform charges, flat rates for a fixed number of employees and API call based charges. Increasingly, API call based charges are considered to be the most popular among developers as they turn out to be the most cost effective. Other pricing models which are not usage based can be very expensive and not sustainable for many companies. 

4. Data sync model

A unified API can have data sync in different ways, either it is polling first or webhooks first. Gradually, developers are preferring a webhooks first approach where customers don’t have to maintain a polling infrastructure as data updates are dispatched to customers' servers as and when they happen. Depending on your needs, you must evaluate the unified API based on the data sync model that you prefer. 

5. Monetization opportunities 

Finally, you should look for unified APIs which can provide you with monetization opportunities in addition to reduced costs and other benefits mentioned above. Gauge and evaluate whether or not the unified API can help you provide additional functionalities or efficiencies to your customers for which you can charge a premium. While it might be applicable for every application category you use, it is always good to have a monetization lens on when you are evaluating which unified API to choose. 

Wrapping up: TL:DR

To conclude, it is evident that unified APIs have the potential to completely reinvent the integration market with their underlying potential to reduce costs while making the entire integration lifecycle seamless for businesses. Here are a few key takeaways that you should keep in mind:

  • A unified API adds an abstraction layer to connect different API for software in the same category
  • The high costs of building and maintaining integrations along with the engineering team drain are the major factors leading to the rise of the unified API
  • It is important to ensure that your unified API normalizes and standardizes data for exchange
  • Security in the form of encryption, least privilege, data classification, etc. are important parameters that make unified API a preferred choice
  • A unified API is the best option when you wish to integrates similar software category applications and don’t wish to spend engineering bandwidth on learning different architectures
  • Using a unified API can help developers take their products to market faster and scale seamlessly, addressing increasing customer integration needs
  • Factors like data storage, pricing, data sync models, coverage, etc. must be considered while choosing the right unified API for your business

Overall, a unified API can help businesses integrate high volume of applications in a resource-lite manner, ultimately saving thousands of dollars and engineering bandwidth which can be invested in building and improving core product functionalities for better market penetration and business growth.

Yasharth Mishra

Co-founder and CEO, Knit

Unifying the world of integration with Knit

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Product
Sep 29, 2023

New Feature: User Management

11
mins

Knit has recently rolled out one of its most anticipated features: User Management.

With the User Management feature you can now add multiple users with different capabilities to your Knit account based on their roles. 

In this article, we will discuss how to get started with the User Management feature and maximize its benefits.

What is User Management?

The User Management feature allows you to add multiple users to your organization’s Knit account and also assign them roles and permissions . It means multiple users can login and have access to your organization’s integrated accounts and various other features as a part of integration management. 

Knit currently serves 3 categories of possible roles for any organization. 

1. Admin

Admins have full access to all the features in the dashboard. They are in a way the primary users who have the right to add/edit/remove new users.  

2. Member

Members have access to only manage integrations and webhooks. Unlike Admins, they cannot add/update users or make changes to the organization’s account with Knit.

3. Billing Contact

Billing contact has access to only billing related options, like editing payment details, selecting plans etc.

For more information on setting up the User Management feature, take a look at this video

How to access the User Management page

When you\ sign up to your Knit Dashboard, you will be logged in as an administrator of the organization you have just created. 


You can then access user management by going to the settings page.

In the settings page you will have access to user management, among other settings.

The User Management screen shows you all the users assigned to your organization, their emails, permissions and also gives you the option to see and edit their roles.



To invite a new user to your org, click on the Add User button on top right.


Here, you can enter the email ID of the person you’d like to invite to join your organization. You can also set their role. Invited users will receive an invite link on their respective email ID.


For detailed information about dashboard access for each role, be sure to check out the User Roles tab.


You can also edit the roles for a user, and resend the invitation to invited users.



What if we have already created multiple separate accounts and want to combine them?

If you have already created multiple separate accounts (by signing up separately with your individual email IDs), we can help you combine them into a single account. 

In the process, we will also combine your integrated accounts, and organizations from multiple accounts.

However, it would not be possible to transfer pre-existing syncs, logs and issues. As a result, once the integrated accounts are transferred, you’ll have to restart the sync for them.

Note: If you have created multiple accounts for testing and production, we recommend that you do not to merge them as the User Management feature does not provide for segregation of environments. 

Thus, it is best to have a separate account for production and for testing in that case.

Let’s get started

Please reach out to kunal@getknit.dev with the list of email addresses (along with their respective roles) that you would like to combine and we’d be happy to help you through it! 

Use Cases
Sep 26, 2023

How Can Marketing Automation Tools Build More CRM Integrations in 80% Less Time

11
mins

Marketing automation tools are like superchargers for marketers, propelling their campaigns to new heights. Yet, there's a secret ingredient that can take this power to the next level: the right audience data

What better than an organization’s CRM to power it? 

The good news is that many marketing automation tools are embracing CRM API integrations to drive greater adoption and results. However, with the increasing number of CRM systems underplay, building and managing CRM integrations is becoming a huge challenge. 

Fortunately, the rise of unified CRM APIs is bridging this gap, making CRM integration seamless for marketing automation tools. But, before delving into how marketing automation tools can power integrations with unified CRM APIs, let’s explore the business benefits of CRM APIs. 

10 ways marketing automation tools can maximize results with CRM API integration

Here’s a quick snapshot of how CRM APIs can bring out the best of marketing automation tools, making the most of the audience data for customers. 

1. Customer segmentation and content personalization  

Research shows that 72% of customers will only engage with personalized messaging. CRM integration with marketing automation tools can enable the users to create personalized messaging based on customer segmentation. 

Users can segment customers based on their likelihood of conversion and personalize content for each campaign. Slicing and dicing of customer data, including demographics, preferences, interactions, etc. can further help in customizing content with higher chances of consumption and engagement. Customer segmentation powered by CRM API data can help create content that customers resonate with. 

2. Enhanced lead nurturing for higher conversion 

CRM integration provides the marketing automation tool with every tiny detail of every lead to adjust and customize communication and campaigns that facilitate better nurturing. At the same time, real time conversation updates from CRM can help in timely marketing follow-ups for better chances of closure. 

2. Churn prediction and customer retention

As customer data from CRM and marketing automation tools is synched in real time, any early signs of churn like reduced engagement or changed consumer behavior can be captured. 

Real time alerts can also be automatically updated in the CRM for sales action. At the same time, marketing automation tools can leverage CRM data to predict which customers are more likely to churn and create specific campaigns to facilitate retention. 

3. Upsell and cross-sell campaigns

Users can leverage customer preferences from the CRM data to design campaigns with specific recommendations and even identify opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. 

For instance, customers with high engagement might be interested in upgrading their relationships and the marketing automation tools can use this information and CRM details on their historical trends to propose best options for upselling. 

Similarly, when details of customer transactions are captured in the CRM, they can be used to identify opportunities for complementary selling with dedicated campaigns. This leads to a clear increased revenue line. 

4. Automated campaign workflow to reduce operational overheads

In most marketing campaigns as the status of a lead changes, a new set of communication and campaign takes over. With CRM API integration, marketing automation tools can easily automate the campaign workflow in real time as soon as there is a status change in the CRM. This ensures greater engagement with the lead when their status changes. 

5. Event triggered campaigns for faster TAT

Marketing communication after events is an extremely important aspect of sales. With CRM integration in marketing automation tools, automated post-event communication or campaigns can be triggered based on lead status for attendance and participation in the event. 

This facilitates a faster turnaround time for engaging the customers just after the event, without any delays due to manual follow ups. 

6. Lead source automation

The integration can help automatically map the source of the lead from different marketing activities like webinars, social media posts, newsletters, etc. in your CRM to understand where your target audience engagement is higher. 

At the same time, it can facilitate tagging of leads to the right teams or personnels for follow ups and closures. With automated lead source tracking, users can track the ROI of different marketing activities. 

7. Tailored social media campaigns and multi-channel marketing

With CRM API integration, users can get access to customer preference insights to define their social media campaigns and audience. At the same time, they can customize scheduling based on customer’s geographical locations from CRM to facilitate maximum efficiency. 

8. Data enrichment for enhancing lead profiles

With bi-directional sync, CRM API integration with marketing automation tools can lead to enhancement of lead profiles. With more and more lead data coming in across both the platforms, users can have a rich and comprehensive profile of their customers, updates in real time across the CRM and marketing tools. 

9. Lifecycle marketing automation

Overall, integrating CRM API with marketing automation tools can help in automating the entire marketing lifecycle. It starts with getting a full customer view to stage-based automated marketing campaigns to personalized nurturing and lead scoring, predictive analytics and much more. Most of the aspects of marketing based on the sales journey of the customer can be automated and triggered in real time with CRM changes. 

10. Customer reporting and analytics for decision making

Data insights from CRM API integrated with those from marketing automation tools can greatly help in creating reports to analyze and track customer behavior. 

It can help ensure to understand consumer trends, identify the top marketing channels, improve customer segmentation and overall enhance the marketing strategy for more engagement. 

Real-world Struggles of CRM Integration in Marketing Automation

While the benefits of CRM API integration with marketing automation tools are many, there are also some roadblocks on the way. Since each CRM API is different and your customers might be using different CRM systems, building and maintaining a plethora of CRM APIs can be challenging due to:

Data transformation inconsistency and campaign blunders

When data is exchanged between two applications, it needs to undergo transformation to become normalized with data fields compatible across both. Since each CRM API has diverse data models, syntax and nuances, inconsistency during data transfer is a big challenge. 

If the data is not correctly normalized or transformed, chances are it might get corrupt or lost, leading to gaps in integration. At the same time, any inconsistency in data transformation and sync might lead to sending incorrect campaigns and triggers to customers, compromising on the experience. 

Delays in campaigns 

While inconsistency in data transformation is one challenge, a related concern comes in the form of delays or limited real-time sync capabilities. 

If the data sync between the CRM and the marketing automation tool is not happening in real time (across all CRMs being used), chances are that communication with end customers is being delayed, which can lead to loss of interest and lower engagement. 

Customer data privacy and security concerns

Any CRM is the beacon of sensitive customer data, often governed by GDPR and other compliances. However, integration and data transfer is always vulnerable to security threats like man in the middle attacks, DDoS, etc. which can lead to compromised privacy. This can lead to monetary and reputational risks. 

Scalability 

With the increasing number of CRM applications, scalability of integration becomes a huge challenge. Building new CRM integrations can be very time and resource consuming — building one integration from scratch can take up to 3 months or more — which either means compromising on the available CRM integrations or choking of engineering bandwidth. 

Moreover, as integrated CRM systems increase, the requirements for API calls and data exchange also grow exponentially, leading to delays in data sync and real time updates with increased data load. Invariably, scalability becomes a challenge.  

Integration management

Managing and maintaining integrations is a big challenge in itself. When end customers are using integrations, there are likely to be issues that require immediate action. 

At the same time, maintaining detailed logs, tracking API calls, API syncs manually can be very tedious. However, any lag in this can crumble the entire integration system. 

Vendor management

Finally, when integrating with different CRM APIs, managing the CRM vendors is a big challenge. Understanding API updates, managing different endpoints, ensuring zero downtime, error handling and coordinating with individual response teams is highly operational and time consuming. 

How Unified CRM API ensures maximum integration ROI

Don’t let the CRM API integration challenges prevent you from leveraging the multiple benefits mentioned above. A unified CRM API like the one offered by Knit, can help you access the benefits without breaking sweat over the challenges. 

If you want to know the technical details of how a unified API works, this will help

Integrate in minutes with multiple CRM APIs

A unified CRM API facilitates integration with marketing automation tools within minutes, not months, which is usually what it takes to build integrations. 

At the same time, it enables connecting with various CRM applications in one go. When it comes to Knit, marketing automation tools have to simply embed Knit’s UI component in their frontend to get access to Knit’s full catalog of CRM applications.

Consistent data transfer guaranteed with normalized data models

A unified CRM API can address all data transformation and normalization challenges easily. For instance, with Knit, different data models, nuances and schemas across CRM applications are mapped into a single and unified data model, facilitating data normalization in real time. 

At the same time, Knit allows users to map custom data fields to access non-standard data. 

Real time campaigns and data exchange

The right unified CRM API can help you sync data in real time, without any external polling requests. 

Take Knit for example, its webhooks and events driven architecture periodically polls data from all CRM applications, normalizing them and making them ready for use by the marketing automation tool. The latter doesn’t have to worry about the engineering intensive tasks of polling data, managing API calls, rate limits, data normalization, etc. 

Furthermore, this ensures that as soon as details about a customer are updated on the CRM, the associated campaigns or triggers are automatically set in motion for marketing success. 

Never miss a data update

There can be multiple CRM updates within a few minutes and as data load increases, a unified CRM API ensures guaranteed data sync in real time. As with Knit, its in-built retry mechanisms facilitate resilience and ensure that the marketing automation tools don’t miss out on any CRM updates, even at scale, as each lead is important. 

Moreover, as a user, you can set up sync frequency as per your convenience.

Scale as you go

With a unified CRM API, you only need to integrate once. As mentioned above, once you embed the UI component, every time you need to use a new CRM application or a new CRM API is added to Knit’s catalog, you can access it automatically with sync capabilities, without spending any engineering capabilities from your team. 

This ensures that you can scale in the most resource-lite and efficient manner, without diverting engineering productivity from your core product. From a data sync perspective as well, a unified CRM API ensures guaranteed scalability, irrespective of the data load. 

Security at scale

One of the biggest concerns of security and vulnerability to cyberattacks can be easily addressed with a unified CRM API across multiple facts. Let’s take the security provisions of Knit for example. 

  • First, Knit ensures double encryption, i.e. it encrypts data at rest as well as when in transit for exchange. It also encrypts data with an additional layer of application security.
  • Second, Knit is the only unified API that doesn’t store any copy of the data and acts as a pure passthrough proxy. Data is only processed in Knit’s server and is directly sent to the customer’s webhooks. Protection of end-user data like this helps you easily gain customer confidence during sales conversations.
  • Third, Knit has wide ranging authorization capabilities, including, OAuth, API key or a username-password based authentication. Irrespective of what authorization protocol the vendor has, it can integrate with Knit.

Catch potential errors early on

Finally, integration management to ensure that all your CRM APIs are healthy is well taken care of by a unified CRM API. 

  • A unified CRM API like Knit provides access to a detailed Logs, Issues, Integrated Accounts and Syncs page for all integrations to monitor and track them along with possible RCA and solutions. This empowers your CX team to solve customer issues immediately without involving the tech team.
  • Furthermore, it enables you to track every API call, data sync, etc. as well as the status of webhooks registered for real time visibility in errors — ensuring that you are always on top of your data and minimizes the chances of any errors.  

Constant monitoring and on demand customer support

Finally, when you are using a unified API, you don’t have to deal with multiple vendors, endpoints, etc. Rather, the heavy lifting is done by the unified CRM API provider. 

For instance, with Knit, you can access 24/7 support to securely manage your integrations. It also provides detailed documentation, links and easy to understand product walkthroughs for your developers and end users to ensure a smooth integration process.

Get started with unified CRM API

If you are looking to integrate multiple CRM APIs with your product, get your Knit API keys and see unified API in action. (Getting started with Knit is completely free)

You can also talk to one of our experts to see how you can customize Knit to solve your specific integration challenges.

Insights
Sep 25, 2023

Unified API vs Workflow Automation: Which One Should You Choose?

11
mins

In today's SaaS business landscape, to remain competitive, a product must have seamless integration capabilities with the rest of the tech stack of the customer. 

In fact, limited integration capabilities is known as one of the leading causes of customer churn. 

However, building integrations from scratch is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process for a SaaS business. It often takes focus away from the core product.

As a result, SaaS leaders are always on the lookout for the most effective integration approach. With the emergence of off-the-shelf tools and solutions, businesses can now automate integrations and scale their integration strategy with minimum effort.

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of two most popular integration approaches: Unified APIs and Workflow Automation tools and provide you with clear instructions to choose the approach that suits your specific product integration strategy. (We also have a checklist for you to quickly assess your need for the perfect integration approach in this article. Keep reading)

We will get to the comparison in a bit, but first let’s assess your integration needs. 

Types of product integrations

In order to effectively address customer-facing integration needs, it is crucial to consider the various types of product integrations available. These types can vary in terms of scope and maintenance required, depending on specific integration requirements. 

To gain a comprehensive understanding of product integrations, it is important to focus on two key aspects. 

  • Firstly, identifying the applications that need to be integrated to determine the scope of the integration. 
  • Secondly, considering the number of integrations that will need to be regularly managed as time progresses.

Based on these considerations, you can gauge whether or not you will be able to take care of your integration needs in-house. 

Read: To Build or To Buy: The practical answer to your product integration questions

1) Internal integrations

When working on any product, it is often beneficial to connect it with an internal system or third-party software to simplify your work processes. This requires integrating two platforms exclusively for internal use. 

For example, you may want to integrate a project management tool with your product to accelerate the development lifecycle and ensure automatic updates in the PM tool to reflect changes and progress.

In this scenario, the use case is highly specific and limited to internal execution within your team. Typically, your in-house engineering team will focus on building this integration, which can be further enhanced by other teams who reap its benefits. Overall, internal integrations are highly distinct and customizable to cater to individual organizational needs.

2) Occasional customer-facing integrations

Another type of integrations that organizations encounter are occasional customer-facing integrations, which are not implemented at scale. Occasional customer-facing integrations are typically infrequent and arise as specific requests from customers.

In these cases, customers may have specific software applications that they regularly use and require integration with your platform for a seamless flow of data and automated syncing. For example, a particular customer may request integration of Jira with your product, with highly specific requirements and needs.

In these situations, the integration can be facilitated by the customer's engineering team, third-party vendors, or other external platforms. The resulting integration output is highly tailored and may vary for each organization, even if the demand for the same integration exists. This customization ensures that the integration reflects the structures and workflows unique to each customer's organizational needs. 

3) Scalable customer-facing integrations

Finally, there will be certain integrations that all your customers will need. These are essential functionalities required to power their organizational operation. 

Instead of being use case or platform specific, scalable or standardized customer facing integrations are more generic in nature. For instance, you want all your customers to be able to connect the HRMS platform of their choice to your product for seamless HR management. 

These integrations need to be built and maintained by your team, i.e. essentially, fall under your purview. You can either offer these integrations as a part of the subscription cost that your customers pay for your software or as add-ons at an extra cost. Offering such integrations is important to gain a competitive edge and even explore a new monetization model for your platform. 

Standardizing the most common integrations is extremely helpful to provide your customers with a seamless experience. 

Different approach to integrations

While companies can always build integrations in-house, it’s not always the most efficient way. That’s where plug-and-play platforms like unified APIs can help. Let’s look at the top approaches to leveraging integrations. 

1) In-house integration development and maintenance

Undoubtedly, the most obvious way of integrating products with your software is to build integrations in-house. Put simply, here your engineering team builds, manages and maintains the integrations. 

Building integrations in-house comes with a lot of control and power to customize how the integration should operate, feel and overall create a seamless experience. However, this do-it-yourself approach is extremely resource intensive, both in terms of budgets and engineering bandwidth. 

Building just integration can take a couple of months of tech bandwidth and $10-15k worth of resources. Integration building from scratch offers high customization, but at a great cost, putting scalability into question. 

2) Workflow automation 

Workflow automation tools, as the name suggests, facilitate product integration by automating workflow with specific triggers. These are mostly low code tools which can be connected with specific products by engineering teams for integration with third party software or platforms. 

A classic example is connecting a particular CRM with your product to be used by the end user. Here, the CRM of their choice can be integrated with your product following an event driven workflow architecture. 

Data transfer, marketing automation, HR, sales and operations, etc. are some of the top use cases where workflow automation tools can help companies with product integrations, without having to build these integrations from scratch. 

3) Unified API / API Aggregators

Finally, the third approach to building and maintaining product integrations is to leverage a Unified API. Any product that you wish to integrate with comes with an API which facilitates connection and data sync. 

A unified API normalizes data from different applications within a software category and transfers it to your application in real time. Here, data from all applications from a specific category like CRM, HRMS, Payroll, ATS, etc. is normalized into a common data model which your product understands and can offer to your end customers. To learn more about how unified APIs work, read this

By allowing companies to integrate with hundreds of integrations overnight (instead of months), a unified API enables them to scale integration offerings within a category faster and in a seamless manner. 

Now that you have an understanding of the different types of integrations and approaches, let’s understand which approach is best for you, depending on your scope and needs. 

workflow automation vs unified API

When to use Unified API

If you want scalable and standardized integrations, choosing a unified API is a sensible option. Here are the top reasons why unified API is ideal for standardized customer-facing integrations: 

  • They cover almost all integrations within a particular category or type. This suggests that you can integrate with all CRM platforms, including Salesforce, Zoho, etc using just one unified CRM API for example. (Check out Knit’s integration catalog across ATS, HRIS, Payroll. CRM and Accounting software)
  • Integration code is universal. You just need to integrate the unified API code into your application for a particular category once. Even when new apps are added within the unified API category, you automatically get access to and start syncing data with the new app without writing any additional line of code. This means that you build once and scale perpetually. 
  • It is extremely developer friendly and doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise or engineering bandwidth to understand and execute. 
  • You can retain a great degree of control. The integration backend can be managed by your engineering team, keeping control of transfer logic and also facilitating high levels of security. 
  • The data you receive into your product is normalized and can be directly synched without the need for any processing or transformation. (Moreover, unified APIs like Knit also allow you to map any custom data field from a specific integration that’s not included in the standardized model. Learn more)
  • Most unified APIs completely take care of integration maintenance once it is built. It means, your tech team need not worry about addressing ongoing customer issues at all. 

However, if you want only one-off integrations, with a very high level of customization, using a unified API might not be the ideal choice. 

Therefore, choose a unified API if you want:

  • To create standardized customer-facing integrations
  • High levels of data normalization and standardization
  • Scalable integrations that can be replicated across customers
  • Ability to add more integrations with minimal resource requirements
  • To control the backend code and drive customizations to a certain extent 
  • A native integration experience and feel and adherence to your brand guidelines

When to use Workflow Automation

Depending on the nature of your organization and product offerings, you might need integrations which are simple, external and needed to enable specific workflows triggered by some predetermined events. 

In such a case, workflow automation tools are quite useful as an integration approach. Some of the top benefits of using workflow automation to power your integration journey are as follows. 

  • Negligible engineering expertise needed. Workflow automation tools are created in a drag and drop manner, facilitating low-code or no- code functionalities. Event triggers are all you need to facilitate data sync from integrations. 
  • They come with pre-built connectors. This means that you can easily get started with pre-established workflows and integration patterns between different applications. 
  • You can easily outsource integration or hand it over to teams beyond your core engineering team as integration using workflow automation doesn't require knowledge about your core product, etc. 
However, the low-code functionality comes with a disadvantage of lack of developer friendliness and incidence of errors. At the same time, data normalization is a big challenge for applications even within the same category. 

The presence of different APIs across applications necessitates the need to develop customized workflows. Invariably, this custom workflow need adds to the cost of using workflow automation when scaling integration. As API requests increase, workflow automation integration turns out to be extremely expensive. 

Therefore, choose workflow automation if you want:

  • A low code integration solution
  • One-off customer facing integration or integrations for internal use
  • Limited functionalities for data normalization
  • Off-the rack workflows and integration syncs

How to choose the right tool for your integration strategy?

In the previous section, we explored different scenarios for building product integrations and discussed the recommended approaches for each. However, selecting the appropriate approach requires careful consideration of various factors. 

In this section, we will provide you with a list of key factors to consider and essential questions to ask in order to make an informed choice between workflow automation tools and unified APIs.

1) Integration complexity

You need to gauge how complex the integration will be. Generally, standardized integrations which are customer facing and need to be scaled, will be more complex. Whereas, internal or one-off customer facing integrations will be less complex. 

Try to answer the following questions:

  • How complex is your integration need?
  • Do you want to connect with multiple applications within a category or only one?
  • How much tech bandwidth do you need to spend on complex data transformation or normalization?

Depending on the nature and scope of complexity, you can choose your integration approach. More complex integrations, which need scale and volume, should be achieved through a unified API approach. 

2) Customization requirements

Next, you must gauge the level of customizations you need. Depending on the expectations of your customers, your integrations might be standardized, or require a high amount of customizations. 

If you need an internal integration, chances are high that you will need a great degree of customization. You may want to check on:

  • What is the level of customization you need for your integrations?
  • Do your customers need unique workflows in integrations? 

If you need to customize your integrations for specific workflows tailored to your individual customers, workflow automation tools will be a better choice.

Note: At Knit, we are working on customized cases with our unified API partners every day. If you have a niche use case or special integration need, feel free to contact us. Get in touch

3) Scalability and growth

It is extremely important to understand your current and expected integration needs

Internally, you might need a limited number of integrations, or if you have a very limited number of customers, you will only need one-off customer facing integrations. 

However, if you wish to scale the use of your product and stay ahead of competition, you will need to offer more integrations as you grow. Even within a category, you will have to offer multiple integrations. 

For instance, some of your customers might use Salesforce as CRM, but others might be using Zoho CRM. Invariably, you need to integrate both the CRM with your product. Thus, you must gauge:

  • How many integrations do you need currently and what is the scale of growth expected?
  • Do you need more than a few integrations or applications within the same category?
  • How integral is integration scalability to your business or product growth?

If scaling integrations faster is your priority, unified APIs are the best choice for you.

4)Technical expertise available

Your choice of the right integration approach will also depend on the technical expertise available. 

You need to make sure that all of your engineering bandwidth is not spent only on building and maintaining integrations. At the same time, the integrations should be developer friendly and resilient to errors. 

Try to check:

  • How much bandwidth does your engineering team have to dedicate to integrations, without diverting focus from core product? 
  • Has your team worked with a particular integration approach in the past?
  • Will your team need additional training to align well with the chosen integration approach?
It is important that not all your technical expertise is spent on integrations. An ideal integration approach will ensure that other team members beyond core engineering are also able to take care of a few action items. 

5) Turnaround time and budgets

You need to gauge how much budget you have to ensure that you don’t overshoot and stay cost effective. At the same time, you might want to explore different integration approaches depending on the time criticality. 

Time and budget critical integrations can be accomplished via unified API or workflow automation. It is important to take a stock of:

  • What is the available budget you have for integration building and maintenance?
  • How many integrations do you seek to accomplish with those budgets?
  • What are the expected timelines for the integrations to be implemented?

It is important to undertake a cost benefit analysis based on the cost and number of integrations. 

For instance, a unified API might not be an ideal choice if you only need one integration. However, if you plan to scale the number of integrations, especially in the same category, then this approach will turn out to be most cost effective. The same is also true from a time investment perspective. 

6) Ecosystem support

When you go for an external integration approach like workflow automation or unified APIs, beyond in-house development or DIY, it is important to understand the ecosystem support available. 

If you only get initial set up support from your integration provider/ vendor, you will find your engineering team extremely stretched for maintenance and management. 

At the same time, lack of adequate resources and documentation will prevent your teams from learning about the integration to provide the right support. Therefore, it is ideal to get an understanding of:

  • What is the support being offered by your integration partner?
  • What are the capabilities available within your team to facilitate the integration process?
  • Will the integration partner provide comprehensive documentation and resources for knowledge sharing?
  • What is the quality of pre-built connectors/ API that are being provided?

7) Future outlook and considerations

Finally, integrations are generally an ongoing relationship and not a one-off engagement. The bigger your business grows, the higher will be your integration needs both to close more deals as well as to reduce customer churn.

Therefore, you need to focus on the future considerations and outlook. The future considerations need to take into account your scale up plan, potential lock-in, changing needs, etc. Overall, some of the questions you can consider are:

  • How well will your integration approach support your scale up plan?
  • Will the integration approach seamlessly adapt to the changing integration landscape?
  • Are there lock-ins or commitments that come along with any particular approach?

Understanding these nuances will help you create a long-term plan for your integrations. 

Wrapping up: TL:DR

When building integrations, it is best to understand your use case or type of integrations that you seek to implement before choosing the ideal product integration approach. While there are numerous considerations you must keep in mind, here are a few quick hacks.

  • Choose workflow automation for one-off customer facing integrations where you need a low-code editor with pre-built connectors. 
  • On the other hand, go for a unified API approach if you want to create standardized customer-facing integrations which you can scale.

Knit unified API helps you connect with multiple applications within the CRM, HRIS, ATS, Accounting, category in one go with just one API. Talk to one of our experts to explore your use case options or try our API for free

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