Fiber Optics Against Black Background
Tax & AccountingJuly 02, 2024

API Spotlight: Exploring Wolters Kluwer's CCH Axcess™ API strategy

By: Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting

A new "API Spotlight" podcast series aims to delve into the world of APIs, with a special focus on those available with CCH Axcess and their potential integration into firms. Hosted by Shahbaz Khan, leader of the API Program and Partners at Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting North America, the podcast explores the transformative role of API technology in accounting practices. 

In this episode, Shahbaz talks to Adam Orentlicher, Senior Vice President of Product Software Engineering at Wolters Kluwer. Adam's team, a dynamic group of technologists and tax analysts, drives innovation in Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting’s Professional, Preparer, and Canadian businesses. Their work includes the CCH Axcess platform, TaxWise, and the CCH iFirm Canada platform. Shahbaz and Adam discuss Wolters Kluwer’s CCH Axcess API strategy, including technology trends, data security, and how accountants can approach APIs in their firms.

What are APIs, and why are they important to accounting firms?

Shahbaz Khan:

Could you just for the listeners that may not be familiar, give a quick summary of what are APIs and why are they gaining so much traction?

Adam Orentlicher:

Yeah, so essentially what are APIs? APIs, I think, simply put, are interfaces by which a firm can access data: that's either retrieve data or submit data. That allows new novel applications. It could be applications that are built by the firm or created by partners in support of the firm. So think of APIs as just another interface, but it's more of a data-driven interface as opposed to a GUI or a graphical user interface, which is what pretty much everyone who works with technology knows and loves with desktop applications or web -based applications.

And what is the value of these APIs, both to Wolters Kluwer customers or vendors, but even internally at Wolters Kluwer as you lead the technology teams?

I would say from a value perspective, there's really three philosophical goals that are behind our API strategy. The first one is to help firms creating new solutions. Second one is to support marketplace providers. And the third one is to use our own APIs or application programming interfaces internally for our own needs. 

If I start at the latter, we always think APIs first. So for example, when we build new features in our technology, in our platforms, in our applications, we use our own public APIs ourselves. That is how, when data is rendered on a graphical user interface, that is the interface behind the covers and how it is rendered. 

But at the same time, we also have to help firms create new applications if they want to do so or new features within their applications. So for example, a simple scenario like moving CRM data to and from a practice management system or filling in data in a tax return automatically. 

And the last goal of these three is really marketplace providers, as I said. And I think, Shabazz, you're going to explain a little bit more about that.

Resources for getting started with APIs

We do have an API approach that is targeted at firms and marketplace vendors. And what we mean by that is some firms like to license APIs and develop custom integrations themselves for perhaps unique solutions within their workflow or custom-developed solutions. But then there's also an element of third party vendors that are in the tax and accounting segment who would like to integrate with CCH Axcess products. And it's important for our firms that we support this kind of interoperability or transfer of data. And that's where our marketplace comes in. 

If you visit our CCH Marketplace website, you can see all the native integration providers that we have today. We continue to expand with leading names in the profession that have native integration that they've developed between their technology teams and ours, which allows firms to be able to leverage APIs without having to do any custom work themselves.

But I guess Adam, apart from that, what I really wanted to focus on was how these APIs are used, and specifically the person on it. So developers are the ones that are using the APIs. How do we collaborate at Wolters Kluwer with external developers and partners who want to consume them?

It's a very good question. We have a number of resources that are available for developers as well as partners to utilize. So we have a developer portal that serves as our centralized hub, and it provides comprehensive documentation on our APIs. The documentation itself is designed to help developers understand and effectively use our APIs regardless of their level of experience. So there's different styles of documentation regardless of the level of experience, everything from novice all the way to expert. 

The Developer Portal goes beyond documentation though. The portal offers features such as the ability to pull reports on API usage. What that allows is developers and or administrators to monitor and analyze their API consumption. And they can also manage their API keys and subscriptions directly through the portal. So what does that mean? It really means that it streamlines the process of accessing reports and accessing the APIs themselves as well as utilizing them. 

The other thing that we have on the developer portal is a range of sample code and projects that can be downloaded and leveraged. So they serve as starting points and references for building integrations and applications.

The reality of all this is that we understand here at Wolters Kluwer the importance of supporting our developers in the development process. I mean, that's what my team does every day internally. And it's important that we take a persona -centric perspective even when we're working with external developers. So that's the reason that our developer portal includes all of this content, but then also links to knowledge base and other helpful resources that we have within our support website, such as frequently asked questions, troubleshooting any issues that may be encountered. 

Ultimately, this is all in the spirit of fostering collaboration and support, or more or less a collaborative and supportive environment for the developers and our partner developers through the tools, the resources, and support in order to empower them to innovate.

You know, Adam, it's interesting you say that: “to empower them to innovate.” And I think that our marketplace approach is kind of following a parallel concept as well. If you wanted to license the API, the new customer development, you're able to do that with the APIs we make available. If you want to leverage the power of APIs through a native integration, we make that available and we empower you through the CCH Marketplace. 

One thing I would add to the support element is I think we follow a parallel approach when it comes to support. We have all these tools you mentioned, like the FAQs and developer portal, primarily to help support developers. But we also have a very robust professional client services or consulting services that are able to help consult with you and even develop integrations if you don't have the resources in -house. Also, we have a network of consultants that we work with at Wolters Kluwer that understand not just our APIs, but also the unique workflows in the tax and accounting profession. So if you wanted to tap into that network of consultants, we can help facilitate that as well. 

I think just to underscore what you're talking about with empowering firms, there's different ways to do that. And I think the approach we take either with the Marketplace or firms licensing APIs or with self -service support or consultants is that there's a spectrum of options available for firms that like to really be empowered to realize the efficiency that APIs provide.

Data security and APIs

Adam, should we focus a little bit just on security and privacy, where you have a strong lens? How do we ensure the security and compliance of our APIs?

Great question. Okay, so we've implemented a robust security framework to protect our APIs as well as our developer portal. So all of the access of our APIs and developer portal, we call them, they're accessible via public endpoints. And those are secured with advanced measures, including protection against distributed denial of service attacks, as well as a web application firewall. 

What is a DDoS attack, you might ask? Simply put, it's an attempt using a network of computers or “botnets,” to send a large volume of requests causing it to be overwhelmed and unable to handle legitimate requests. So we have protection against this type of attack. The other thing we have is API access requires user authentication.

And then all of the API calls that are made from a developer to one of our platforms, they're encrypted using industry standard protocols. And then there's additional application-level encryption techniques that are applied behind the scenes. 

The other thing that's important is API access itself. In addition to authentication, it's controlled and limited with authorization policies. So, you could have a policy, for example, that enforces the ability to access only very specific types of data within our platform. The developer portal itself is only accessible to authenticated users as well. 

The other important point to mention, especially for those technologists that are listening, we also have rate limiting that's in place. And what that does is that safeguards our applications as well as infrastructure. So that essentially limits the volume and the frequency of calls without it adversely affecting our infrastructure and other tenants per se or other neighbors that could be leveraging such calls and infrastructure. 

Ultimately, this is just a little sneak peek. I don't want to go into too much detail because you have to obscure the security guidelines. But the reality is we have extremely comprehensive measures. And this is all in the spirit of ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our API ecosystem, as well as our apps and infrastructure.

API trends and tips for success

That's very reassuring to hear, Adam. Thanks for sharing that insight. I want to zoom out a bit. From your view as a technologist and leader in technology at Wolters Kluwer, what trends do you see in the API landscape and how are we preparing to addressthem?

I see a number of trends in the API landscape. The first one is GraphQL style calls. So what is GraphQL? GraphQL is more of a modern approach to building APIs that offers a more flexible and efficient way of retrieving data compared to traditional methods. So for example, it will allow a developer to request exactly the data they need in the structure they need, which reduces unnecessary data transfer and making it easier to work with the data. It's become very popular in the industry, especially in web and mobile application development, because it just ultimately it simplifies the amount of processing that is needed after the data is retrieved. And it also improves performance of apps. 

The second trend I'm observing is more enabling ways to deal with real time or frequently changing data. So one that has really been increasing in prominence recently is an open source technology called Delta sharing. And what that really is, it's a way for organizations to share data securely and efficiently, especially for real time and frequently changing data. So what that means is instead of sharing entire data sets, it allows focusing on the sharing of only changes or updates to the data that reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred, which in the end saves time and resources. 

It's very useful in scenarios and we have these scenarios within our professional platforms in particular, where data needs to be kept in sync across both our platform and our firms' systems. And those are really the scenarios in which adoption has been prevalent or increasing in prevalence. And it's specifically in industry such as this one where timely data sharing is essential for making informed decisions and optimizing operations and applications. So those are really the two trends Shahbaz, a little bit techie, but it's really GraphQL and more Delta sharing for real time or frequently changing data.

I can imagine that's so valuable to our customers, especially in the time crunched environment we operate in some parts of the year. Just in closing, Adam, what advice would you give businesses? There's a lot of talk around APIs. We've talked about some of the approaches we have today in technologies. But if I'm a firm thinking about leveraging APIs, what should I do? Give me some practical advice on how do I approach leveraging this technology for automation in my practice.

So practical advice, and I think it's advice that we heed ourselves when we are developing new features or new products within Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting, starts with: follow a contextual design process that aligns on the jobs to be done. So in other words, what is the problem that you want to solve with APIs? But I think it's important to start with the problem, the problem statement.

Then determine the range of potential avenues for addressing the problem. That could be, for example, through a marketplace provider. It could be through internal developers. It could be through an external system integrator. You have to determine the range of avenues for addressing the problem. Then you have to engage the right teams to help. You should build, but build small. Phase it iteratively. So you want to build small, try it, measure the results, then continue to build and/or pivot. You have to take small bite -sized chunks, measure the results, continue to take another bite -sized chunk, continue to measure the results, and then keep that Agile cycle going before you get into management and support mode. So be Agile.

The only thing I can add to that, Adam, is if you want or need any help along the way, Wolters Kluwer is here to support you through our consulting teams, through our support teams, reach out to myself or even Adam for that matter. 

Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting

Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting is a leading provider of software solutions and expertise that helps tax, accounting and audit professionals research and navigate complex regulations, comply with legislation, manage their businesses and advise clients with speed and accuracy.

Back To Top