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Attention citizen integrators! How to access data from an API without coding

In 2014, Massimo Pezzini of the Gartner group coined the term “citizen integrator” to describe business users who can create integrations between applications using development environments that the IT department provides. He commented:

IT leaders have no choice but to facilitate citizen integrators while putting in place guardrails to minimize risks and potential long-term debts.

As someone who considers himself a citizen integrator, I have documented here how I built an integration to access data from an API without coding, using the Flowgear platform.

Citizen integrators

Following on from the 2014 article, Gartner started discussing tools that citizen integrators could use which would increase their ability to build and automate simple integrations tasks. Then earlier this year (2017), Gartner published another article in which they recommended that as the digital transformation of business increases, IT leaders should re-evaluate traditional integration policies and allow business users to perform self-service tasks to integrate data and applications.

Role of APIs

An API (application program interface) is a specification that defines how to interact with an application. Growth of the web and cloud computing have increased the interest in APIs. APIs allow organizations to share information and interact with third parties, and have become an indispensable part of the digital business environment. They are not just technical assets but are of strategic value.

The main benefit of APIs is that they provide a structured form of integration, ensure business logic and rule validation is applied, and are an efficient way to control access; we have previously discussed the technical and business benefits of APIs.

Citizen integrator example

One of the use cases of APIs is to enable access to data. We use a cloud-based application called Intercom – a customer engagement platform. We use it to encourage and enhance engagement with prospects, drive sales, and improve interaction with customers. Intercom make the data we’ve accumulated in their system accessible via a set of published APIs. They list several SDKs (software development kits) for different languages like PHP, Node.js, Java, and .NET which you can use to access the API. However what if you’re like me, you have some technical background but don’t know those languages or don’t want to bring in a developer? The answer is to use Flowgear.

The Flowgear platform provides more than just prepackaged integrations, it also makes access to APIs simple and flexible for citizen integrators. Here is how I created a simple Flowgear integration workflow to read data from Intercom and store it in an Excel spreadsheet.

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Building an API integration in Flowgear

Intercom have created APIs to access different segments of their internal data; these include users, companies, and other segment data. For my requirements I wanted to access the tag data – in Intercom you can group and filter users, companies and leads by manually assigning tags.

So my first set of specifications were:

  1. Data source was https://api.intercom.io/tags.
  2. Intercom APIs return all data in JSON format.
  3. To access our own data, an access token is needed.

The complete workflow in the Flowgear console is this:

API-access-workflow

Here are the steps to building the workflow. If some things are unfamiliar, have a look at the various sections in our Help library.

  • Add a Web Request node, this is used to access a web page or interact with a REST service, or where no specialized Flowgear Connector is available.
API-Web-Request1

You will need to specify the API URL

As Intercom is a cloud application, you will also need to create a Connection. A Connection is an endpoint for a data source (for more information see Connecting to cloud software).

Pro-tip: if you change the Connection name in the Web Request URL, press F5 to see the new name.

The access token must be input manually, and also the JSON response.

API-Web-Request2

The ContentType must also be specified as JSON.

API-Web-Request3
  • You then add the JSON Convert Node and select the Action as JsonToXml. The reason this node is required is that the Flowgear Excel node requires input data to be in XML in order to create an Excel file.
API-JSON-Conv1
  • If you now run the workflow created so far you should see this in the Activity Log
API-Activity-Log1
  • By clicking on the JSON Convert line of the Activity Log you can select the Json element to see the data from Intercom. By clicking on the Xml element you can see the data converted to XML
API-Activity-Log2
API-JSON1
API-XML1
  • The next node is needed because the data returned from Intercom has an XML tag <type> that creates problems setting up the data to be converted to Excel. So we need to use the XML Replace node to remove the <type> line.
API-typetag1
API-XML-Replace1

XPath gives the syntax for finding any element on the web page using the XML path expression; here is more explanation. In this case, XPath specifies ‘root/type’, and the Replace option is ‘Remove’ which removes the <type> XML tag.

  • If you now run the workflow, select the XML Replace line, then click on the last element of the line you will see that the <type> line has gone in the XML values.
API-Activity-Log3
API-XML2

By clicking on the Editor icon, you can see the data in tabular format.

API-Table1
  • The next step is to add the Excel node and connect up the appropriate output from the XML Replace to the input TableXML of the Excel node.
API-Excel-Node1
  • Finally we need to add a Variable Bar node to specify the name of the Excel file that will be created.
API-Variable-Bar1
  • The workflow is now complete, running it produces this in the Activity Log
API-Activity-Log4
  • Clicking on the download icon on the first line will download the Excel file
API-Activity-Log5

Note: my developer colleagues tell me that I could make this more elegant and download the Excel file automatically but this is good enough for me at the moment.

  • Here’s the data in Excel.
API-Excel1

Flowgear supports citizen integrators

Citizen integrators: if you are looking for a quicker, better and more effective way to get your data from API sources, I hope this example shows you that you don’t need to know code to use APIs for data integration.

CIOs and IT managers: please note Gartner’s recommendation to support citizen integrators by extending your integration platforms with citizen integrator tools.

The Flowgear cloud integration platform provides enterprise-class integration capabilities the proper guardrails to enable DIY integration. Because it’s a cloud platform Flowgear promotes collaboration, sharing of best practices and the ability to reuse integration content.

If you are citizen integrator, why not try Flowgear by signing up for a 14-day free trial. If you need help, the web chat icon is available on the Flowgear Console for you get in contact with us.

If you need other information, contact us by filling in the form below.

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