Phone APIs in Communications: Tools for Custom UCaaS Systems

Phone APIs in Communications: Tools for Custom UCaaS Systems

Of all the changes to hit the telephony industry, among the biggest is the role of the installer. With UC&C and the shift to digital frontiers, a service provider can no longer be simply someone who plugs in products as they are. Rather, as telephony has joined the greater field of IT, a telephony installer has become closer to a tech developer.

In part, this is due to the nature of the field shifting to involve digital elements such as coding or software. But equally, the shift is out of a need for differentiation. With digital PBXs, the most common solution, features have become much the same across them, so it’s usually individual developers who can add unique points of value.

However, as any IT professional can attest, developing specialized code for each and every installation is far from realistic. Not only would creating a completely new custom routine take a software developer’s level of knowledge, it would take significant time as well — a likely deal-breaker for most customers.

The solution is finding a middle ground in development: APIs (application programming interfaces). These allow system integrators to efficiently add features to their PBXs through simple integration. With mastery over this concept, MSPs can quickly stand out in the market and build a better reputation for their own services rather than just for their solutions.

What Is an API?

An API, in short, is a mechanism in software that allows it to communicate certain data with other programs. For non-technical people, it’s easiest to think of it as a contract: one program requests information within set parameters from the other, and the other must deliver the request.

In more practical terms, phone APIs are an approachable way to integrate your PBX with systems not normally supported by your vendor. Because APIs are a simpler way to instruct multiple programs to exchange data, a PBX can be programmed through its APIs to sync to those of another system. As a result, that external software will effectively run within the PBX.

Note also that phone APIs typically have preset functions as part of their programming options, meaning that it takes fairly little training to set up custom routines within them. Again, this makes using them quite simple in comparison to usual development tasks.

Examples of Phone APIs for Solutions

When setting up anything from video calls to desktop telephones, APIs in products consistently make for more effective PBX installations thanks to their wide integration potential.

For example, let’s say a customer does most of their accounting and production planning work within an ERP. Even if your PBX does not innately support an integration with this ERP, using APIs an installer can quickly program their system to communicate with the ERP software. Once the phone API customization is complete, the customer can automatically send data to their ERP through the PBX as well as see the most important information from that ERP in the main digital communications interface.

However, this is just one potential use case. In actuality, nearly any business tool can be made a part of your PBX so long as it’s possible to configure the APIs of both that comms system and the external software.

First of all, this means that with the right choice of PBX and enough expertise, you can turn a VoIP setup into the true core of business operations for a company, with all the most used tools accessible from a single interface.

At the same time, this means adding features to your installations is no longer a matter of building them yourself. Instead, so long as you can find a relevant external application for that feature, you can simply integrate phone APIs. In both cases, from the customer’s perspective, it’s as if you added the feature directly to the installation.

Closed vs. Open Phone APIs in Products

But we must be careful to note that such customization is not possible with all systems. In VoIP, APIs are not an innately changeable part of every PBX; in fact, with many vendors, they’re not even accessible.

Remember that APIs in products are essentially a tool for additional development put in place by the system’s original developers. Rather than an inherent part of the software’s code, APIs are an additional feature that may or may not be made available to third-party distributors. Consequently, it’s entirely possible to simply close off this component of the system.

These are known as “closed APIs”, and by design, they kill the possibility of custom features and integrations. Unfortunately, in such cases there is little an MSP can do to change the PBX’s capabilities, which of course will prevent them from using their development services for custom deployments.

Before you can even think about how to use APIs in communications, therefore, you must select a PBX with open APIs — ideally, one with a culture and brand designed to support such customization.

Deploying Phone APIs for Communication

Obviously, to deploy a phone API is still too detailed to explain in a single blog post. But in general, the process can be summarized in six key steps:

  1. Conceptualize the finished project: Begin with your ending in mind. What kind of features do you expect this integration to add to your PBX? Before starting your work, be as detailed as possible in your planning.
  2. Research the applications involved: Even when using APIs, you’ll still need a baseline of knowledge about your applications. Assuming you already know about the APIs in the communication system, also study those in your external software.
  3. Build the integration: Here, the hard work begins. Code the integration in both the API-supported products, keeping track of how you proceeded for later.
  4. Test the integration: Before demonstrating the integration, you must verify it’s fully stable. Run it under as many scenarios as possible to ensure it’s of practical use to your customer.
  5. Document your process: Once you are certain the integration is stable, it will help you in the future to know your exact development procedure. Record what steps you take for the integration, and be sure to include actual lines of code for ease of reference.
  6. Deploy the API: Here at last, you get to show off the completed setup to your customer. Remember to take credit for this development, too — the end-user may not know this new feature was because of your services.

In general, these parts of the process will help ensure you are consistently using APIs effectively.

The Importance of APIs to an MSP

Once more, what these capabilities bring to an MSP’s sales offering is greater customization, and as a result, greater sales potential. Certainly, there are differences between individual PBXs, but in many cases, these differences alone mean little to an end customer in terms of true business value. To best match their interests, it pays to offer a one-of-a-kind integration with exactly the tools they already use.

The sales possibilities through this process also show the importance of selecting a PBX that is truly dedicated to your sales through the channel. Since many vendors purposefully close off access to their phone’s APIs, you can close yourself out of this opportunity right from the beginning. Avoiding this means you must find a vendor with customizable APIs as part of the system’s design.

This exact reason is an enormous part of why the Wildix system helps bring MSPs success. With Wildix, the system APIs are open and ready for customization, and installers are fully encouraged to learn how to use them to deploy a system that showcases their technical expertise. That’s just one of many ways Wildix is dedicated to supporting channel growth.

No matter what, selling on your own expertise is vital to standing out in the market today, and just as important to maintaining your hold on customer relations. Now that services and even development skills matter more than ever, it pays (literally) to have a shortcut to more features and niche integrations. Without open APIs, you’ll miss out on those advantages and the improved cash flow that comes with them.

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