Store jam, not data - use APIs

September 30, 2020

At the XAMK - Digital Information Summer School, organized for the fourth time, Marjukka Niinioja spoke about the use of APIs in document archiving. How to implement document archiving in a sensible and secure way? What to consider and take into account?

A story about the process of archiving digital information

Based on a past archiving project, two different perspectives emerged in archiving digital information: the problems experienced by a document management expert and a digital developer. Questions relevant to the document management expert were

  • how to properly implement a document management tool acquired a few years back
  • how to unify fragmented data models and
  • how to transfer documents from the previous system to the new document archive.

The challenges seen by the digital developer, in turn, were

  • building a working extranet when you get a document from document management software, when you first know in which archive you can find that document, how to use its interface and what metadata about it?
  • linking an archive document to the right company and person, or linking product information to the right product or device; and
  • the slowness and in some cases the impossibility of retrieving documents.

At the beginning of the project, the initial need for the business was defined as improving the customer experience, streamlining the partners' operations, enabling the customer's electronic transactions and enabling the customer to see their own orders and equipment.

The challenge in archiving digital information is what form the data to be archived and used is. It is important to understand the difference between structured and unstructured data. Structured data can be retrieved, filtered, combined, and processed individually or in bulk, and can be understood quite reliably by a computer. Unstructured data, in turn, requires interpretation and contains several different possibilities, which requires either human interpretation or machine learning.

So before you start integrating content and document management solutions into operating systems and digital services, make the following clear to yourself:

  • What do you mean by documents and content
  • Distinguish the presentation from the content and the “pieces” of the content from the whole
  • Think carefully about the purpose and source of the data and
  • Who has access to information in internal systems, as well as externally.

So what is the role of APIs in this equation? In the above and other projects, APIs and platforms serve as a means to build service paths that serve users in the ecosystem. This can mean, for example, optimizing the service path or automating processes and eliminating unnecessary work steps.

"Digital platforms need APIs as boundary resources, filters, and to enable and enhance interaction"

The world is becoming more and more structured. Sites should now be archivable in structure, and APIs are used to produce most of this content. APIs serve as a means to buy, sell, or build a wide variety of documents, such as business information, contracts, grammar checking, file format conversions, and speech-to-text, to name a few. Digital platforms need APIs as boundary resources, filters, to enable and enhance interaction through algorithms, and through the platform to leverage other resources.

Not data just because of the data, but data before the documents

When developing digital archiving of documents, keep the original need and goal in mind. Three points that everyone should remember:

  1. Documents and information are intended to serve human activity. Customer and process first, not the document.
  2. With this in mind, technical services such as APIs should also be designed to be durable as well as flexible.
  3. A document is always a specific set of information and a document documents a specific event. These entities must be preserved and the information related to them must not change.

It is this day that in addition to document archiving, document creation is increasingly handled by robots or automated systems. Think about who, or what, will draft your next document?

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