Cloud hell

Migrating to Cloud? Make sure you can REST!

Your cloud migration completed successfully. Now you can access your application from anywhere without any concern about maintaining a server or installing client applications. Bliss!
Then a colleague or customer requests some data in a specific format. You download a 100 column spreadsheet from the new cloud application, specifying the date range of the records you need. Then, you remove the columns you don’t want, filter out some rows; change the order; do some summaries and a grand total. 30 minutes later, it’s ready.
Then you find it’s needed EVERY DAY! That’s 125+ hours per year.

No problem says the consultant (me), I can use the REST API to automate the whole process and email the results. You’ll never need to worry about this again. That’s when you first discover that there’s no API. Doomed!

A bit of background:

  1. What’s an API?
    It stands for ‘Application Programming Interface’. Just a way for one application to talk to another. Lots of ways to do it but most useful if using a standard method.
  2. What’s REST?
    A less pretty acronym – ‘REpresentational State Transfer’. It’s an ‘architectural style’ rather than a protocol. In English, it’s the style we want one application to use to talk to another rather than the specific way in which it should be done.
  3. What about JSON?
    You’ve been reading the documentation! JSON is ‘JavaScript Object Notation’. It’s a standard way to represent data in a text format.
  4. What happened to XML and WSDL?
    You’re showing your age! XML performs the same task as JSON. It’s more complex but much richer in the information it provides. You can also force it to fit into a defined style that can be validated. You may have the option to use XML instead of JSON but it’s becoming much less common.
    WSDL is like REST on steroids. It’s a protocol too, so can return information about what it’s expecting. Still well supported by Microsoft; forgotten elsewhere.
  5. How does this all come together?
    Simple – you make a request to a cloud application using the REST API!
    When you browse a web page, you’ll be familiar with the address of a site. For example, is the home page for BBC news. Think of that as ‘making a request’ to the BBC for the content of their news home page.
    A REST API is the same idea: makes a request to a the API of a free dictionary for the definition of the word ‘hello’ (the end of the address). That returns data in the form of JSON that can then be consumed by another application. In this case, it’s your browser. Chrome will show the raw JSON whereas FireFox does some pretty formatting.
    As well as requesting data, you can also interact with the other application. For example, you could add a new contact or delete a record. The only limit is what the application developers have made available.
  6. What can I do with the REST API?
    Anything you want! To date, I’ve retrieved data for a data warehouse for reporting and analytics, done a bulk update of contacts, uploaded new records and sent text messages. I’ve even made different cloud applications talk to each other.
  7. Which applications provide REST APIs?
    Lots! I’ve worked with Firetext (SMS), Capsule CRM, CarePlanner, Wagestream, Metabase, Salesforce, ePloy, StarRez & Access People Planner.
  8. My cloud application doesn’t have a REST API. What should I do?
    Choose a different one. You may not need to extend the application now, but there’s a very good chance you will in the future.

What next?
If you’re data’s stuck in the cloud and you want to use it elsewhere, please contact us using the form below.

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