API. It’s a confusing acronym for the even more confusing “application programming interface.” An API is the way that data communicates and integrates. So if you have data from a telematics platform that you need to put into your service platform, the way it’s integrated is via an API.
“The ability to transfer data seamlessly between different systems is paramount to being successful and making sure everybody’s on the same page,” said Scott Sutarik, vice president of commercial vehicle solutions at Geotab. “That could be data into a maintenance system. It could be a remote diagnostic system. It could be a dealership ERP system. It could be a whole host of different things, but the ability to convey that information from multiple sources and bring it into the back office of the fleet, a shop or to an OEM dealership is critical.”
When you’re talking with your heavy-duty service software provider, telematics providers, OEMs and anyone else who provides you with data, you want to ask if APIs are available and who they often integrate with. While APIs can provide data integration functionality, the process for getting that done is often more involved than simple plug-and-play. Not only do you have to ensure that your data is in a form that your chosen platform can read, but you also have to get all of your providers at the integration table.
And that can take some work.
“There are always legacy systems that take a degree of reverse engineering,” said Julie Ragland, senior vice president and chief information officer at Navistar, when talking about the API data integration process. She noted that data standards are being talked about, but we’re not there yet. “In my conversations with truck manufacturers, suppliers and telematics providers, we start to see an increased need for the role of standards as more and more data starts to come together. We certainly look at SAE as they provide some standards for us as it relates to making sure that we understand and have consistent definitions around the data.
“As we start to see perhaps a role for some kind of consortium around helping us understand how data from a supplier relates to data from an OEM relates to data from a telematics device.”
“Standards are obviously a large part of integrations, simply because there’s so much information out there,” Sutarik agreed. “But looking at today’s actual integrations, the more important thing is having a developer who can review documentation and a partner who can support that integration. At the end of the day, we’ve seen integrations take a day or two; we’ve also seen the same integrations take a month or two . It takes a lot of planning and people that can actually implement the integration.”
As data becomes more integral to improving your heavy-duty shop efficiency and productivity, you’re going to start to find that, potentially, the biggest hurdles aren’t data or technology based. They’re people based. Communication and collaboration with trusted providers are still how work will get done when it comes to integration.
There’s no magical digital switch that will automatically do these things for you—you have to work with capable partners who you trust to get the job done.