A unified application programming interface (API) serves as an abstraction layer that allows communication with multiple underlying APIs simultaneously. This means that each object and endpoint in the unified API corresponds to an object and endpoint in the underlying API. This enables software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies to create a single integration with the unified API and quickly ship integrations with each of the underlying APIs.
Unified APIs solve the problem of building seamless native integrations with other tools. SaaS buyers now expect these integrations, but they require significant engineering resources to develop and maintain. With each integration, engineers must handle authentication, understand the third-party API documentation, implement the necessary business logic, and create a user-friendly configuration experience. Additionally, they need to maintain and update the integration as new features and changes are introduced.
Unified APIs emerged as a solution to simplify the process of understanding multiple third-party APIs. These APIs save engineering teams from repeatedly learning the nuances of each individual API for every integration. Instead, they only need to learn how to interact with the unified API once.
Unified APIs work by abstracting the APIs of different services. For example, a unified CRM API would abstract the APIs of various CRM platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot, Dynamics, or Pipedrive. Each underlying CRM has its own objects and properties, but the unified API provides a standardized interface. Object-level references and properties are abstracted to create a unified experience for developers.
Not all APIs can be unified in a single API due to differences in data models, structures, and features. Therefore, vendors offer specific unified APIs for different SaaS verticals like CRM, accounting, or advertising. These APIs cover applications with similar data structures and shared objects or properties.
Unified APIs provide several benefits to engineering teams. They simplify integration development by abstracting multiple APIs into a single interface. The API provider manages authentication, reducing complexity and ensuring secure authentication processes. Unified APIs also offer logging and error reporting functionalities, making it easier to identify and debug integration issues. Additionally, providers often include pre-built user interfaces for seamless authentication and configuration experiences.
However, unified APIs have their challenges. They can only support features that are shared among the underlying APIs, limiting the complexity and specificity of integrations. Irreconcilable features, missing fields, and custom objects or fields can pose limitations on what can be achieved with unified APIs.