Your CRA or background screening company has invested numerous hours and significant resources into choosing and configuring the right background screening software platform for your needs. You may have selected one of the leading commercial platforms or developed a proprietary solution — either way, you’re not about to change now.
Your background screening software has become the essential backbone of your business; your staff is trained on it, and it’s set up to deliver the customizations your end users expect. Any third-party data suppliers you choose to partner with must be able to feed directly into your system without disrupting your carefully designed workflow or screen results format that each customer requires.
In the world of background screening data, the concept of “integration” refers to the critical connection between your systems and a data provider’s systems. Software intermediaries called APIs (application programming interfaces) make these integrations possible. APIs are not something that shows up on a pricelist or that you pay for, but APIs make all the difference in getting the value from the data that you do pay for.
So a good API is just as important as good data. Just like there were good witches and bad witches in Oz, there are good ways and bad ways to implement integrations with APIs. The bad ones will leave your CRA in the lurch and a good API integration will keep you running efficiently and reliably.
If you’re considering a new background screening data provider or expanding your relationship with your existing provider, here are the key questions to ask to ensure the smooth flow of data from their systems to yours.
1. Do you have an API?
Imagine a world without APIs. Someone would have to manually package background screening data and upload it to an FTP folder. Then you would have to download that data, process it, and manually add it to your system. (And repeat for each new request.)
Integrations eliminate all that, enabling automation and streamlining the background screening process. But how you integrate is as important as the fact that you do. Purpose-built integrations sound like a great idea but each integration requires maintenance, security monitoring, and updating for new features. If you have 3 data providers that provide 5 services each, that’s 15 separate pieces of software to maintain; expensive and prone to problems. The majority of CRAs in the modern era rely on API integrations because they are, by far, the easiest, most efficient way for two companies to exchange information.
If a data supplier does not offer an API, working with their data may slow your workflow considerably, which can extend your turnaround times and endanger your client relationships. But even if a data supplier does offer APIs for integration there are good and bad ways to go about designing APIs to reduce risk and cost and increase efficiency and reliability.
2. Do You Offer a Single Endpoint API for All Your Data?
A well-designed background screening data API should function like your cable box. Your cable box takes raw data from your cable provider and translates it into the various channels you subscribe to. You don’t need a different box for each channel.
Nor should you require a different API integration for each information category you might request from your data provider. For example, adding national criminal records data to your county-level searches should not involve your entire engineering team in a new integration with its own API. In a well-designed API, the addition should be as simple as changing the product code on the existing API.
3. Does Your API Support Our Commercial Software Platform Out of the Box?
Background screening platforms like Accio Data, Clearstar, and TazWorks help CRAs manage their workflows and scale their businesses efficiently without the expensive complications of developing their own software.
Thousands of CRAs have invested in these popular platforms because the customer experience is seamless. The experience of integrating the platform with a third-party data provider should also be seamless. The integration should just work — because the data provider has made an effort to ensure an easy-to-use, full-featured API-based connection with all the major background screening platforms.
4. Does Your API Support Our Proprietary Background Screening Platform?
For various reasons, many CRAs choose to develop and maintain in-house background screening platforms. This shouldn’t deprive them of direct access to high-quality third-party background screening data.
Connecting through the API and integrating the data with your own systems should be a relatively straightforward, turnkey process. (And the data supplier should provide all the technical support you need.)
If your company uses a proprietary background screening platform, look for API features such as:
- Resource-oriented URLs
- Support for secure HTTPS authentication and verbs
- The use of JSON for all responses
- Real-time updates on order status
- Restful API architecture (to relieve unnecessary burdens on servers)
- Enhanced support for search scope, allowing you to set extremely detailed scope settings per order
- The ability to send detailed known case information and receive a direct response at the case level
5. Is the API Documentation Intuitive? Can Non-Engineers Understand It?
An API’s documentation is like a board game’s rules. Without the rules, a board game is just an incomprehensible collection of tokens and cards. Without proper documentation, an API is just a contextless bunch of code.
And in the same way that well-written rules make a game accessible to experts and beginners alike, well-written documentation helps all interested parties — not just engineers — understand and appreciate the API. Clear and intuitive API documentation helps decision-makers visualize the flow of information between the data provider and their organization so that they can plan accordingly.
When considering a background screening data vendor, ask to see their API documentation. Consider it a warning sign if it’s filled with engineering jargon and not much else. The integration process may not proceed as smoothly and transparently as you would like.
6. Are you An API-First Company?
As noted above, most CRAs and background screening companies rely on API integrations as their primary connections with data vendors. Because integrations are so central to your business, they should be central to your data providers’ businesses.
This is what we mean by an “API-first” company. The API is not an afterthought to an API-first company but a first-class citizen. Any new products, updates, or changes in functionality must be available seamlessly and immediately through the API integration so that CRA users like yours can continue to receive the accurate and timely background screening data you need to satisfy your end users and grow your business.
Back in 2002, Jeff Bezos, founder and then chairman of Amazon.com, recognized the importance of being an API-First company. In one of his infamous memos to the entire company that he used to establish priorities for success, Jeff wrote this about APIs:
- All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
- Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
- There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
- It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter.
- All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.
- Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.
Being API-first and offering well-designed APIs is just that important.
7. Will You Keep Us Updated on Changes to the API? If You Make Significant Changes, Will You Help Us Migrate?
Integration technology has come a long way over the past several years — for example, the widespread adoption of JSON over XML layout — and will continue to evolve. An API-first data vendor will keep up with the pace of innovation, continually improving their API to enable the fastest, most flexible transfer of data modern technology allows.
At the same time, data providers should be mindful not to leave their customers in the dust. Your background screening data supplier should keep you well-informed of upcoming changes to the API and help you navigate any changes that need to be made on your end to maintain the flow of data.
(Again, here, there is a benefit to working with a vendor offering a single-endpoint API. Changes to the API will be reflected across all data types.)
Learn More With a Podcast About Data Integration and APIs in the Background Screening Industry
A well-designed API integration puts your CRA or background screening company in control of the data you depend on. By asking the questions above, you can ensure that your next data supplier will put your business needs first.
Learn how a leading background screening data provider prioritizes its API and integration capabilities in the latest episode of the InformData podcast, featuring a chat with InformData Chief Product Officer (and API expert) Greg Jones.