Simplifying app development and driving customer engagement with CPaaS

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Russ Green, CTO and Head of Development (left), and Alessandro Musella, Head of Sales S-EMEA French Africa and CIS, at SAP Digital Interconnect, explain how APIs benefit the connected enterprise and how choosing the right CPaaS provider is as important as the APIs themselves.

In the digital economy, apps play a big part in the way we live our lives today, constantly engaging and interacting with online services. As we do so, we expect those services, and the companies behind them, to engage with us in a way that respects our personal preferences. For some people, that may be e-mail; for others, SMS. For others still, over-the-top (OTT) messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In fact, it’s likely to be a combination of all of those channels and more, with different channels preferred for different types of engagement. Perhaps WhatsApp for a 2-way chat with a brand to find out more about a particular product or service. E-mail when you want more detailed information, perhaps when researching a high-value purchase. And SMS to simply confirm that the goods you ordered have been dispatched.

If you’re a developer in the position of building an app or starting an API project from scratch, it’s relatively easy to build in all those channels and capabilities from the start. The reality is, however, that few companies enjoy this sort of luxury, and are faced with the much more difficult challenge of integrating them into existing software, while also taking account of the complexities of interconnectivity, global reach, security and local best practices and regulations, such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe, for example. 

Fortunately, a solution is at hand in the form of Web API-based (Application Programming Interfaces) communications and microservices. Web APIs are easy to use interfaces that developers use to access a range of digital services over the Internet so that solutions can be quickly deployed with less effort, fewer problems and lower cost. One simple example, among the thousands out there, is the Google Maps API that enables a company to display its location on a Google Map on its website.

API libraries
raditionally, if you wanted to access an API to build a solution, you would download a library. So, you might download a social channels API to enable you to communicate with a customer via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Another to send an SMS or e-mail confirmation when their goods have been shipped and when delivery is expected. You might also make use of a library to manage your consumer contacts and others to enable other types of engagement over different channels. 

The issue here is that each library provider has its own programming model which means that the developer must manage these differences. As an example, this might mean having to manage numerous authentication mechanisms for services from the different libraries, for example, when sending a SMS rather than a message over Facebook Messenger.

For these reasons, in recent years, CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) providers have become important sources of APIs. On the SMS front, for example, at last count, SAP Digital Interconnect was connected to more than 1,000 mobile network operators worldwide, across 220 countries and territories. These connections come from our 20-year heritage of connecting enterprises to mobile networks to enable them to deliver various services. These connections are so well established and integrated into our systems that switching between mobile operators in any given country or social media channel is seamless. 

When you turn to a CPaaS provider for your API integrations, you remove the complexity involved in downloading and integrating individual APIs. The CPaaS provider has already done the hard work of connecting to and integrating with the major social and messaging channels such as SMS, WhatsApp, Viber, Lime, WeChat, voice, e-mail and IoT networks. A CPaaS provider will take care, not only of your current requirements, but your future ones too, as a CPaaS leader will constantly be forging new connections and enabling new channels as they emerge as well as ensuring that regulatory requirements and consumer privacy rights are satisfied.

Choosing a CPaaS provider
So how do you choose a CPaaS provider? If you have complete certainty over what you need both now and in the future, it’s an easier decision. If not, you should choose a provider who can meet your current requirements, but who can also enable different services and communications channels as your needs change. 

With “full stack” providers such as SAP Digital Interconnect, you get a common authentication, privacy, security and integration model. Even within the same enterprise, different apps and engagement solutions require different API abstractions. A common security and integration model, combined with code generation where appropriate, facilitates efficient development. 

Examples might include adding simple messaging or voice notifications to an existing app. Extending an existing app that uses SMS to one that uses multichannel notifications or intelligent decisions, based on customer preference, message urgency or connectivity status. Adding customer support capabilities that integrate directly to your CRM system. Or adding global messaging network capabilities, with all the direct mobile operator connections that requires. 

Single, integrated APIs from a full stack provider make for reduced complexity when creating custom enterprise engagement solutions, speeding time to market, and enabling the enterprise to execute with a minimum level of programming and back-end infrastructure investment. 

Code generation
Code generation is another area where the CPaaS provider can help developers achieve results quickly. A good CPaaS provider will enable you to go to the portal sign in, then choose a use case such as sending a simple message over SMS to a mobile phone.  In this scenario, the developer simply types in the text of the message and inputs the phone number. He or she then tells the portal what language they are programming in, such as JavaScript or Python, and gets the code to execute in his or her own environment. This type of automatic code generation dramatically reduces the time needed to prototype and develop code. 

Developers also receive comprehensive support in the form of accessible documentation and targeted support for individual developers, including granular details about the options they can set in the API, relating to things such as message sent and message read notifications. Other support services include an API catalogue, sample code, use cases, and developer support forums and communities. 

The next piece of the picture is analytics and insight. Let’s say an enterprise has enabled its website to send SMS messages to customers and wants to know how many messages go out per use case. Are consumers responding to messages? What time of day do they visit? Do they browse or buy?

If the enterprise then adds in other channels, it could look at the proportion of its customers that have opted-in to use each channel. It might establish that the best channel to reach people in Italy is WhatsApp, whereas in the US, it may be Facebook Messenger. Or that younger customers using Facebook Messenger are more likely to respond to an offer. This insight into customer preferences, how their behaviour is changing, and how they want to engage with the brand is invaluable for efficient development and focused, targeted marketing. 

The final area to consider is standards compliance. A good CPaaS provider should at the very least be compliant with SOC 2 and ISO 27001. Often, especially in the communications and engagement fields, developers and enterprises are quick to jump into building something, and enjoy great success with it, but then find that they are running foul of a regulation or experience a data or security breach. SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are industry-level standards to ensure that the way in which the services were built meet certain accepted criteria for data management. 

Beyond this, there are rules and best practices governing certain territories and industries that a good CPaaS provider must be aware of and adhere to. While some countries allow almost anything, others have stricter rules around things such as registration, compliance and opt-ins. One simple example is that in France, a brand cannot send marketing messages between 8pm on a Sunday and 8am on a Monday. And in Italy, there are strict regulations on e-mail that have been brought in to prevent phishing. 

Meanwhile, certain industries, such as healthcare and finance, have strict regulations around data privacy. The basic question enterprises need to ask themselves is whether they are working with an API provider who knows how to work across territories and industries and ensure that you stay compliant with all relevant rules and regulations. 

When you find the right CPaaS provider to work with that ticks all these boxes, however, you will find your speed to market and ability to add new channels and services increase massively, while the complexity of handling individual API integrations all but disappears.

Working with the right CPaaS provider will make developing and delivering customer engagement solutions easier and help your enterprise realize more value.

To learn more about how CPaaS providers and APIs are improving experiences, read “Communications APIs: Mapping the Developer Lifecycle,” “The Critical Role of CPaaS in Reaching Customers on their Channels of Choice,” and“The Business Value of CPaaS and Key Attributes When Selecting the Best CPaaS Partner” and join the SAP Digital Interconnect Community.