Why APIs are a crucial ingredient in return-to-work strategies

Profile picture for user ifairclough By Ian Fairclough July 29, 2020
A safe return to the workplace means pulling data in from multiple systems via APIs, says Mulesoft's Ian Fairclough.


Many organizations have made a success of remote working during the COVID-19 crisis, but there’s also an appetite for bringing staff back to the office once it’s safe to do so. Almost as soon as the UK passed its first peak of the crisis, nearly a third of organizations were in the process of re-opening their offices for some staff, while in the US, Federal Government employees were returning to the office at the start of July. Yet despite this momentum, return-to-work strategies have seen mixed results, amid concerns that many are based on inconsistent or conflicting data.

Initial experiments with bringing staff back to the office underline the importance of putting health and safety at the heart of every return-to-work strategy, and data has a vital role to play. If they can achieve a clear picture of every internal and external factor that could influence the return-to-work process, organizations can create a more informed strategy for bringing staff back to the office, and enable themselves to respond faster to changing circumstances. However, the reality is that building this picture is far from straightforward for many organizations, as they struggle to unlock data from various silos, limiting how successful their return-to-work strategies can be.

Piecing together a clear picture

Bringing together all of the data needed to create a single view of the business and its employees requires organizations to collect it from a wide range of different sources. HR data, for example, may need to be brought in from systems such as Workday, ERP data drawn-in from SAP, and customer data from applications such as Salesforce. The challenge with this is that within many organizations, these applications aren’t typically integrated, and the data that they contain exists in silos. This makes it a very slow and complicated process to combine the datasets together to create a clear picture from them.

Complicating matters further, the single view that organizations need to guide their return-to-work strategies must also be able to draw data from external sources. Public health data from bodies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are a vital source of insight for assessing whether it’s safe to return to the office, informing organizations of factors such as the rate of infection in their area, or whether local restrictions could be implemented at short notice. Without the ability to aggregate these sources of data with internal insights, organizations aren’t equipped with the full picture, increasing the risk of return-to-work strategies being built on inconsistent or incomplete information.

The keys to the datastores

Some organizations are looking to API-led connectivity as a way of overcoming these challenges and unlocking the data they need to inform their return-to-work strategies, while also accelerating digital transformation projects that enable more connected customer experiences. Under this approach, APIs are placed in front of the various applications they need to draw data from, forming an integration layer that allows relevant data from each system to be used to create a single view of the enterprise.

APIs also offer a way of connecting to third-party data sources such as the CDC or WHO, and can be used to connect with data visualisation tools such as Tableau. This allows organizations to create more actionable insights, by presenting data in a way that’s easy to interpret, and easy to share with other stakeholders across the business to drive more effective return-to-work policies.

Many organizations have already adopted this approach. For example, The Indiana Department of Child Services is using APIs to integrate Salesforce and its other applications, enabling it to manage building operations for 92 office locations, assess the safety risk of opening up buildings, and track employee access to comply with social distancing policies. It also uses these APIs to ensure that adequate PPE and hand sanitiser are distributed across its offices. At a time when organizations need to remain fully informed of rapidly changing circumstances and have the ability to adapt to them with little warning, this up-to-the-minute data and the clear picture it enables will be essential.

Returning to ‘the new normal’

Unpredictability has been one of the hallmarks of the current crisis. Circumstances are continuing to change frequently, making it remarkably difficult for organizations and governments alike to declare that it’s safe for everyone to return to the office. As a result, having a clear, up to date picture of the present situation and the various challenges that could arise is the most important aspect of every organization’s return-to-work strategy.

The use of APIs is one of the most effective ways of meeting these needs, and the good news is that many organizations were already experimenting with their API strategies long before the pandemic emerged. In the months ahead, these organizations will have a significant advantage in their ability to accelerate digital transformation and their efforts to successfully bring their employees back to work .