Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are ways to connect different applications and have their features complement one another, or to have one application add a specific feature provided by another application. APIs are typically part of a vendor’s developer program, and the vendor (publisher) controls which functionality of their solution is available to the developer partners. A publisher might choose to allow the full feature set of their solution to be integrated into someone else’s application, or they might choose only to make a subset of features available to other developers depending on the publisher’s solution, market position and demand.
APIs can enable a virtually endless variety of functions for a developer’s applications, including sending emails, customer service chats, data analytics, shipping for physical products, managing a customer’s subscription, application printing and more.
Vendors may choose to make their APIs available directly to their developer partners, which usually means developers sign up for a (sometimes paid) developer program. This typically allows access to the API documentation, some form of authentication like a specific token to ensure only authorized developers can use the vendor’s solution and billing specific to the functions and features a developer can use via the API. Using the vendor’s documentation, the developer can then implement the available feature as part of their applications.
Expanding on this concept, anyone with an application that might be useful to someone else might decide to publish access to their APIs via a third party, such as Zapier. Using such a third party exposes the publisher of the application to a potentially much larger audience and unleashes the creativity of a global audience to find useful and creative ways of combining applications that the developers themselves might never have considered.
Additionally, in an age of increasingly easy-to-use cloud applications, users have come to expect the ability to do their own integrations. Long gone are the days when customers were willing to pay for long consulting and development engagements to customize applications to their needs, especially outside the large-scale enterprise sector. Platforms like Zapier allow customers to put together their integrations with a few clicks, test them and modify them to perfection, at much lower cost than a direct integration engagement with a specific vendor. They then have the option to take advantage of the whole platform ecosystem to build out a solution that is exactly suited to the customer’s needs.
Printing is uniquely suited to fit into both of these API categories. There are plenty of (cloud) application developers who need flexible, fast, secure and high-quality print options for their solutions, but they don’t necessarily want to learn all about printer features, drivers and connections. They would much rather focus on their expertise and integrate a high-quality print function from someone they trust to have the requisite know how around processing print data, ensuring delivery of a print job in perfect formatting and more.
At the same time, customers themselves are increasingly moving even proprietary applications to the cloud. Their inner workings might be a little different, but the challenges for printing are similar. One of those challenges is the delivery of a print job from an outside network (the cloud) to the company network or a user’s home office, as well as running the overall print infrastructure themselves. A Windows print server tied to a proprietary application in Azure or AWS might be significantly more expensive to set up, operate and maintain than an API connection to a cloud-based print service.
And last but not least, there are the users of cloud services like SalesForce, Dropbox, Google Workspace, Freshworks, ServiceNow, MailChimp and many more ERP, CRM, EMR offerings that are looking to connect their core systems to other important supporting functions through integration platforms like Zapier. Customers can pick an application they are using and one they’d like to integrate with, and in just a few clicks they can set up and manage the relationship, data exchange and functionality between those apps.
When it came to integrating printing, Google Cloud Print was one of the preferred print platforms — after all Google is present and available just about everywhere. Unfortunately, Google decided to discontinue their offering after 10 years in “beta” status. This has created quite a demand for other print platforms and their APIs.
For those not overly familiar with cloud printing, the overall layout is pretty simple – which is actually one of the great benefits of cloud printing. It leaves all the complexities of printing to the platform vendor. On one side we have the applications that are either run on a user’s computer or integrated via an API, and on the other side the company’s or user’s printers. The cloud printing solution in the middle should handle translating the print job into the printer’s native format with a native driver, assigning printers to users, managing billing, and handling the network connectivity between the cloud printing solution and the printer. Ideally this connection is established as an outbound connection from the printer’s location to avoid complex network and firewall configurations.
Some of those looking to fill Google’s shoes in cloud printing might have a major advantage in that they don’t need specific printers with built-in clients. Using a simple hub device, virtually any USB or network/Wi-Fi printer can be turned into a cloud connected printer. This can work for an entire office – for those fortunate enough to be able to enjoy each other’s company again – or for a single printer in someone’s home office. Using the printer drivers supplied by each printer’s manufacturer for processing of print jobs in the cloud not only ensures a high quality, true to format printout, but also the broadest possible support of existing printers.
APIs may seem like a world away from printing, nested solidly in the world of software developers, but between cloud printing offerings and integration platforms, they are closer and more useful than immediately meets the eye. Take a look at your customer base and educate customers that primarily consume applications about the benefits of integrating with cloud printing solutions via platforms like Zapier and take advantage of vendor’s partner programs. Also take a look at those among your customers that are building applications and educate them about the benefits of providing printing via a cloud printing API. With (home) office endpoints needing printers, connectivity and some configuration there is plenty of business opportunity for the imaging channel.
Henning Volkmer drives the execution of ThinPrint Inc.’s strategy as an expert in print management. A cloud printing innovator and launch partner for Windows Virtual Desktop, ThinPrint is the technology leader for fully processing print jobs in its ezeep cloud without having to rely on on-premises printer drivers. He has established a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of technology trends for more than two decades.