Common Challenges of Building Multiple API Integrations

January 24, 2024
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Building multiple API integrations isn’t easy. In this article, we discussed common challenges of building and scaling SaaS integrations and their most convenient solutions.

Building SaaS integrations doesn’t have to feel intimidating; but let’s face it, it usually does. Many factors—from complex APIs to poor documentation—can make it tough for product teams to scale integrations.

In this article, we'll cover common obstacles SaaS companies face while building multiple API integrations and how to overcome them. 

But before we delve into that, let's first discuss what API integrations are and use an example to understand why they can be more complex than you think. (You can skip to the next section to jump quickly into the list of challenges.)

The complexity of multiple API integrations

APIs, or application programming interfaces, enable two applications to connect and seamlessly exchange data. APIs allow these systems to specify how requests are made and data is shared. The convenience of API integrations makes them a popular choice for SaaS developers.

However convenient, APIs are far from simple. Their complexity makes building and maintaining multiple API integrations challenging for engineering teams.

To understand this better, let's consider the HR and payroll integrations landscape. 

The need for multiple integrations in HR

Today, an average HR tech stack has seven or more employment systems of record, including human resource information systems (HRIS), payroll software, benefits administration platforms, performance management tools, and so on. 

The efficiency of HR processes depends on how effectively these tools communicate with each other. As a result, employers are increasingly prioritizing product integrations as a critical criterion before investing in any SaaS product to add to their HR tech stack. 

Therefore, if you are a developer, product manager, or owner of a SaaS tool in the employment tech space, your ability to remain competitive and close more deals depends on your ability to offer seamless integrations across multiple HR and payroll systems. 

The difficulty of API integrations

As of 2023, the U.S. has nearly 6,000+ HR and payroll providers. Many of these providers do not have public APIs. And the ones that do have hundreds of variations in their APIs, data formats, documentation, and integration protocols. 

Understanding different HRIS or payroll APIs and then planning, building, testing, and implementing dozens or hundreds of integrations can take months or even years and cost millions of dollars—not to mention the ongoing maintenance required for all the connections. 

These complexities apply to API integrations across all software categories, not just HR. In the next section, we’lldiscuss in depth what makes scaling API integrations a challenge for SaaS builders. 

Note: Meanwhile, if you are building multiple HRIS and payroll integrations, you should check out Finch's unified employment API. With Finch, you can unlock access to data from 200+ HR and payroll providers using just one integration. Learn more

Common challenges of building and maintaining multiple API integrations

Building API integrations is a complicated endeavor for several reasons. The primary challenges developers face are:

  • Diversity and complexity of the API ecosystem
  • Data mapping and consistency errors
  • Security and compliance issues
  • Integration partnership challenges
  • Third-party API updates
  • Integration maintenance problems

Complex API Ecosystem

Developers find it increasingly difficult to build integrations with a diverse set of APIs for several reasons, such as negotiating lengthy partnership contracts, testing integrations across multiple environments, the cost and complexity of scaling product integrations, and much more. Let’s examine these issues in detail.

Diverse APIs

While APIs make it easier to connect two systems, the diversity of API providers and integration procedures makes it a nightmare for developers to build multiple API integrations. 

Each API provider has different systems built into the API. They may use different technologies, error-handling mechanisms, or rate-limiting protocols and can also have unique data formats—making it further challenging to facilitate seamless communication between them.

Gated APIs and integration partnership challenges

Not all APIs are open for anyone to use—gated APIs require partnership agreements to access 

their API keys, documentation, and sandbox environments. The companies that enter these agreements have to undergo security checks, lengthy negotiation processes, and, in some cases, pay additional fees—rendering partnership agreements extremely time and resource-intensive. 

Some providers even require a minimum customer count before entering a partnership agreement, posing additional challenges for resource-limited startups that need product integrations to grow their customer base.  

Testing across multiple environments

Building API integrations in-house means ensuring each integration runs as intended and is reliable. Testing is crucial to check the stability of each integration and whether it can handle varying data loads under different use cases.

The problem with API testing is twofold:

  • First, every API provider may not offer testing environments to build against, requiring developers to figure out how to test in production with real customer data.
  • Second, testing integration against a provider system requires a thorough understanding of how that system behaves, how it defines data, and so on. It requires specific knowledge and expertise that may not be available to a typical SaaS product/engineering team. It can take weeks for a developer to understand the nuances of API testing for a specific provider. 

Neither of these options allows SaaS product teams to move quickly.

Scalability issues

It’s important to remember that all of the challenges we’ve mentioned apply to every API integration, and most SaaS companies need to integrate with dozens of systems in their space. Scaling your company’s integration catalog is a challenge. Here’s why:

  • First, building multiple SaaS integrations is time-consuming and resource-heavy. Developers must decode each API, understand documentation and data schemas, write custom codes, and test and implement the integration. Building just one integration—from planning to implementation—can take a few weeks to a month and thousands of dollars. If you have 20, 30, or a hundred integrations to build quickly, it’s definitely not a viable option. 
  • Second, developers’ work is not finished once the integration is implemented; they then need to spend their valuable time maintaining these integrations and optimizing their performance. 
  • Third, integrations are not a core product feature for most SaaS tools, yet integration with customers' existing tech stack is essential to remain competitive and reduce churn. Building dozens of integrations can take valuable time from the engineering team, which could be spent enhancing your core product. Developers often deprioritize integration-related tasks to work on core products or vice versa. Neither benefits the bottom line. 

Note: Finch not only makes it easy to scale HR and payroll integrations quickly but also offers a sandbox environment for select providers to give developers a safe test environment. Visit Scale with Finch.

Data-related challenges in API integration

The complexity of diverse APIs also poses to data mapping and consistency for integration builders.

Data mapping and normalization

Normalizing data from multiple systems of record is not an easy task. Here’s why: 

  • First, different providers store data in different formats. They may provide the same information but return it under fields with different names in varying formats.
  • Second, some providers may not offer the data developers need in a simple format. For example, they may not pre-calculate the values that are required. It forces the developer to collect and calculate values themselves—adding to the complexity of the API integration process and elongating the timeline for completion.
  • Third, different systems may use different types of APIs. Some providers use SOAP APIs instead of the more common REST APIs. As a result, developers spend more time learning how to integrate in new ways they may not have experience with. This delays integration shipping time even further.

Developers can save hundreds of hours when provided with data in a standardized format. This abstracts away the additional complexity of mapping data in different formats from different systems of record each time a sync happens.

Data consistency and accuracy

Ensuring data quality and integrity is crucial to avoid compliance and security issues as well as to minimize errors in data processing. Data quality in API integration is measured by its accuracy, timeliness, and consistency across multiple systems. 

Considering the complexity of data mapping, it is clear that maintaining data quality while building multiple API integrations is a challenge for SaaS product teams.

Establishing clear data standards and validation checks is essential to address this challenge. Also, using a tool to normalize data can bring the dual benefit of ensuring data accuracy and standardization.

For instance, Finch acts as a single source of truth for HR and payroll data, regardless of where the data comes from. As a unified API, Finch normalizes hundreds of variations in employment data into a standard format. Thus, making it easier for developers to read updates and write changes into the employers' primary HR tool—while maintaining data accuracy and completeness.

data normalization with unified APIs

Security issues in API integrations

Security challenges in API integration include unauthorized access, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and excessive data exposure.

Data security and compliance

Every organization, regardless of its size, is wary of safeguarding and sharing its data. This is especially true for sectors dealing with sensitive information such as financial data, employment data, or health records. 

While it may be manageable to establish and monitor security standards for one or two integrations, it’s nearly impossible to continuously monitor security health for a dozen or more integrations without dedicated resources. 

Another solution is to use dedicated integration solutions like unified APIs or iPaaS that are compliant with global standards for security practices like CCPA, SOC2, GDPR, ISO27001, HIPAA, and so on.

Authentication issues (401 unauthorized errors)

Another security issue in API integrations is broken authentication or broken function-level authorization. Authentication errors return an HTTP error code 401. 

Complications can also arise from different authentication mechanisms like OAuth, API keys, and access tokens used by different API providers. Developers must familiarize themselves with multiple authentication protocols and implement custom processes for each API integration they build.

For example, if you are building multiple HRIS or payroll API integrations, you must carefully build and manage authentication and authorization. Any unauthorized access or erroneous permissions can lead to disastrous consequences for your end users—employers and employees.

To account for this, Finch's unified employment API not only supports different authentication protocols but also makes it easy for end users to authorize access control. With Finch Connect, employers can select their choice of HRIS and payroll providers and authorize permissions in less than 30 seconds. Learn more about Finch's security practices here.

Challenges of keeping up with third-party APIs

Two of the most common struggles for developers building multiple third-party API integrations are inadequate or incomplete documentation and backward incompatibility.

Documentation discrepancies 

Documentation discrepancies in API integration are multifold. For example:

  • Some providers do not make their documentation publicly available, restricting it to approved partners only. 
  • The documentation may not be clear and concise, requiring developers to spend more time finding necessary information. Sometimes, the API documentation may not be available in your preferred language.
  • Documentation may not be updated with the latest API versioning changes. 

API versioning and backward compatibility

APIs are not static—they’re updated over time. API version changes can break the existing integrations or lead to broken endpoints and consistency issues. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure each API integration has backward compatibility—in other words, they continue to perform even when a new version of the API has been released. 

In our experience, developers often find it difficult to contact the API providers when a documentation page returns an HTTP 404 page not found error or a versioning change returns HTTP 301 error code.

To effectively manage API versioning, developers need to create flexible codes for the integrations that can adapt to API version updates and remain functional. They also need to have communication and support plans in place with API providers to stay updated about version changes and preemptively adjust integrations.

Note: Finch makes handling third-party API integrations easier for HR integration developers. For instance:

  • Finch maintains up-to-date, standardized documentation across providers. It helps developers save themselves the time and effort of dealing with varying quality API documentation by different providers.
  • Finch adjusts for API version updates for all the integrations on its end, so your developers don’t need to keep tabs on the status of multiple APIs. Check out our developer documentation for more details.

Integration maintenance challenges

Maintaining dozens of integration maintenance indefinitely is a monumental task. You need to constantly monitor the health of each integration for performance issues, error resolution, and rate limits. Let’s examine these issues in detail.

Rate limiting (HTTP 429 error) and throttling

API providers sometimes impose API rate limits and throttling to control the number of API calls, prevent over-usage, and maintain integration stability. This returns an HTTP 429 error code. 

To avoid being rate-limited, developers must monitor API usage carefully or use webhooks to receive notifications instead of polling the API connection excessively. Adjusting for rate limits is doable for a few integrations but adds to the complexity of scaling.

API monitoring and error handling 

Building integrations is only one part of the equation. Another hurdle is maintaining them for optimum performance on an ongoing basis. Integration performance depends on the time it takes to sync data, the accuracy of the data synced, frequency of errors, and the time it takes to resolve them. 

Ensuring reliable integration performance is tricky. API integrations can fail, break, or malfunction for several reasons, such as incorrect parameters, server errors, and network issues. It can also fail due to third-party provider issues such as API versioning or any incident or outages that impact their APIs.

As a result, developers need to continuously monitor these integrations individually. Diagnosing and solving integration performance issues also requires knowledge of the specific API and its nuances. Monitoring individual integration can be difficult, especially when you have dozens of integrations running simultaneously and a relatively small engineering team. 

Given that poor integration performance is one of the leading causes of SaaS customer churn, SaaS companies must identify errors on time and promptly resolve them. 

For this reason, SaaS builders are increasingly opting for unified APIs like Finch as a go-to solution for scaling customer-facing integrations. Unified APIs allow developers to build and maintain one integration and unlock access to data from hundreds of applications. It’s always easier to deal with one API integration than the nuances of dozens of APIs.

If you are building three or more HR and payroll integrations, consider checking out Finch unified employment API. Connecting with Finch can unlock integrations with 200+ HRIS and payroll providers—covering 88% of the U.S. employer market. 

Throughout this article, we have discussed how Finch solves the common challenges in API integration. With more than five million API calls every day and tens of thousands of employer connections, Finch is the trusted HRIS and payroll API solution for several B2B applications. 

You can learn more about Finch by booking a call with one of our experts. We would be happy to discuss your specific integration needs.

97% of HR professionals say it’s important for your app to integrate with their employment systems

Learn more in our State of Employment Technology report ->

97% of HR professionals say it’s important for your app to integrate with their employment systems

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