What are APIs and why should accountants care?

Published · 2 min read

Once upon a time accounting software was just that – software used only to manage a client’s business accounts. Today, the world of cloud accounting has transformed accounting software, such as Sage One, into something much, much more powerful. You might have been told that one of the key benefits of cloud accounting that makes it so potentially powerful is that they have “APIs”, but what does that actually mean and how exactly can it help you and your clients with their business?

API stands for “Application Programming Interface”. Put simply, an API enables third parties to build software applications that integrate with the API publishing software (e.g. Sage One) and use its data in new and useful ways. You could consider APIs to be similar to the connectors in the back of a television set, in that they allow you to both input (computer, DVD player, digital box) and output (speakers) data.

In fact, you probably already use APIs every day without realising it – all popular social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – publish APIs that enable other applications to post or read data to, or from, users’ accounts.

Some of the most useful APIs are published by transport companies, such as Transport for London, and National Rail, and allow third party applications, including Google Maps and City Mapper, to tell users how to get from A to B as quickly as possible.

Back in the world of accounting, APIs allow clients to treat their accounting software as a central hub and use it to effectively unleash their accounts data to make key business processes more efficient. Satago, for example, integrates with users’ Sage One accounts to improve their credit control by automating the process of chasing customers for payment and showing Experian credit risk data integrated with their accounts receivable. By automatically connecting to a user’s Sage One account every day, Satago always knows which invoices have been paid, and hence no longer need chased, and which are still out-standing.

Another good example is Receipt-Bank, which allows users to submit supplier invoices and receipts, which are then automatically scanned, coded and entered into a Sage One user’s Accounts Payable, thus cutting down on a massive amount of manual data entry. It’s understandable that to those unfamiliar with APIs the ability to access your sensitive accounting data can, at first, seem threatening. However, you can reassure your clients that there is no threat – they are always in control of what applications are integrated with their Sage One account and can easily revoke access at any time. Integration requires explicit permission from the account administrator and the applications never actually see or have access to a user’s password.

The beauty of API integrations for accountants, is that it turns accounting software in to more of a well-equipped toolkit, meaning there is almost always at least one application that could benefit each of your clients. It’s worth taking the time to browse through the Sage One Add-on store to get a good idea of what applications are available, and which of your clients might benefit from them.

Thanks to the power unleashed by cloud-accounting APIs, there has never been a better time to be a trusted business advisor to small businesses.

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