Lisa Everts, Test Developer, Business Development
August 17, 2018
Associations want to offer certification and learning opportunities to their members, and often that leaves their staff to manually coordinate information across different software systems by exporting information from one system and importing it into another, or even manually re-entering the information. This can add to the staff’s volume of work, and create room for errors or lost transactions. The author of this blog post offers a convenient solution…APIs!
Associations want to offer certification and learning opportunities to their members, and many times that leaves their staff to manually coordinate information across different software systems. The coordination usually involves exporting information from one system and importing it into another, or even manually re-entering the information, a chore sometimes left to the members themselves and usually explained away by saying, “Those two systems don’t talk to each other.” Manual information transfer and re-entry adds to the staff’s volume of work, but also creates room for errors or lost transactions. Surely, there must be a convenient method to allow the systems providing member services to access your membership management system!
The answer is APIs or Application Programming Interfaces. An API is a formatted computer-to-computer message. APIs can simplify operational life by computer-to-computer information transfer for training and certification programs. Any new system acquired by an association or certification body should be equipped with APIs that coordinate information with other systems the certification body may possess. The APIs used by a membership management system should coordinate with the test registration system.
So, how do APIs work?
We take for granted that computers can easily exchange information. You witness this every time you use a browser or smartphone. For instance, we expect that our smart phone can alert us when there is a new posting on our social media applications. An API makes that possible.
Computers that exchange information – or less formally “talk together” – do so through electronic exchanges called APIs. They “talk” by exchanging predefined messages. There are likely hundreds of thousands of APIs, and they exchange billions of messages every day.
Regardless of how it appears to the observer, one computer cannot simply send another any message at any time. There is a strict protocol, a defined message format, and an expected outcome that must be observed. The combination of protocol, message format, and expected outcome define an API.
How can an API help your business operations?
You may be wondering why you’d want to use an API or system of APIs. Let’s explore that using the example of processes happening for a certifying body’s members. The process can start when a candidate for certification applies to join the association or registers for training. This process happens in the membership management system – outside of an LMS or testing system. The certifying body’s membership management system starts with processing members’ demographic information. Members will engage in any number of activities, including paying annual fees, registering for courses, and taking certification exams. Somehow, the member’s activities must be configured in an LMS or test delivery system. For a large association with thousands of members, entering member’s information into each supporting system would require an army of workers if done manually. Using APIs to automate the process, the membership system can provide the other systems with everything they need to know about each member. APIs provide the group of systems with communication channels that are vital to successful integration and reduce the need for manual intervention.
Vendors for membership management systems, LMSs, registration and test delivery systems support various APIs. Vendor can offer API customizations that facilitate the communication between the systems an organization is using. API documentation can a bit cryptic, so organizations should anticipate that initiating the APIs will require a conversation between the vendors to understand what each API does. It’s important that organizations understand the information that they expect to be exchanged between a new system and the organization’s existing systems.
When planning to purchase additional systems, be sure to check the API capabilities with your IT department. Ideally any additional system should supports a rich set of APIs that your membership systems can leverage. Reliance on APIs allows growth in the number of services offered to members without growth in the number of operational headaches resulting from the effort to administer them.
Strasz test registration and delivery supports the use of APIs from your learning management system and your membership or candidate management system.