APIs: integrating the customer experience but still lacking a standard

An ‘API’ interface is the key to help firms share data in a controlled fashion but a workable standard is looking increasingly necessary. Andrew Hennigan reports

Today’s traveller expects booking apps and websites to be able to work with different providers of services. Some businesses also choose to create links with providers of complementary services to improve service or generate more revenue.

To make this possible companies usually provide an Application Programme Interface or ‘API’, which essentially opens the doorway for companies with the right key to access a partner’s data in a controlled fashion.

But not everyone provides an API and not all APIs are created equal. However, if you want to survive in a digital world, you need to take the API economy serious, says Liad Bokovsky, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Innovation at API management solutions firm Tibco Mashery, a sponsor of EyeforTravel’s recent Connected Traveller event in London.

Bokovsky spoke on the subject of APIs for competitive advantage in travel

One company that is using this approach effectively is Heathrow Express, the premium rail link from London’s Heathrow Airport to the city. According to Fraser Brown, Business Lead at Heathrow Express airlines have been using XML interfaces for some years to provide a seamless booking process between airlines, but most rail companies have not taken up this technology.

If you want to survive in a digital world, you need to take the API economy serious

Liad Bokovsky, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Innovation, Tibco Mashery

Since Heathrow Express has a particular interest in working closely with airlines, it has taken steps in recent years to ensure their booking platforms have a Heathrow Express ticket booking functionality. Explaining further, Brown says Heathrow Express wasn’t included on traditional GDS systems. So, if travel management companies and their customers wanted to book a Heathrow Express ticket they would have to book it and then load the information manually into the GDS and back office systems in order to process an invoice. Having an effective API resolves this problem.

Taxi companies are also moving towards the provision of APIs to make access easier for their partners. Taxi pre-booking platform Cabforce has an API that allows registered partners to integrate Cabforce content into their applications in order to implement a complete taxi booking flow.

The Cabforce API provides support for making searches for taxi ride availability and flat rates, and then book and purchase using a credit card.

It also facilitates management of the booking throughout its lifecycle – notifying passengers of, for example, cancellations, by email or social media. In addition, the Cabforce API provides supporting tools for fetching service-related metadata such as information about Cabforce supported destinations or points of interest (POIs).

Cabforce CTO Tomi Kankaanpää sums it up: “Cabforce is opening up its APIs to taxi companies so that they can better automate the booking and fulfillment phase activities, gain access to real-time reporting and to provide more accurate information about the whereabouts of both passenger and the car.”

What’s lacking isn’t so much APIs as there are plenty, but a common standard for data to be exchanged

Adrian Schoenig, CTO, SkedGo

While making an API available is a good start, any web developer will tell you that some APIs are much easier to use than others.

For Kankaanpää good APIs should be lean, simple and extremely fast when it comes to performance. Instead of building monolithic, complex web services that try to cover everything, Cabforce has chosen to build a series of simple HTTP/REST-based services that are optimised for certain users and use cases. REST is a simple way to organise interactions between independent systems and has been growing in popularity since 2005, inspiring the design of services, such as the Twitter API.

If that sounds technical Kankaanpää explains further: “This allows light weight API implementation in mobile apps without complex API client setups, resulting faster time-to-market and wider adoption of the Cabforce services.” 

But not everyone agrees that we need more and better APIs.

“What’s lacking isn’t so much APIs as there are plenty, but a common standard for data to be exchanged,” says Adrian Schoenig, the CTO at SkedGo, the company behind the TripGo travel app. Schoenig points to multiple standards in the transport space.

For public transport there is the GTFS General Transit Feed Specification created by Google. There is also the TransXChange is a UK nationwide standard for exchanging bus schedules but nothing like that exists for other modes of transport yet. Meanwhile, MOBiNET is trying to set some standards for the EU but it is still early days.

While the experts may not agree on the future of API development, it is clear that as intermodal booking apps become more common - and companies grow revenues by offering ancillary services - the need for APIs is only going to increase.

Looking ahead then, the pressure to find a workable standard looks like to increase.

Tibco Mashery appears hear as part of EyeforTravel’s sponsorted content programme

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