Flat Files vs. APIs: Choosing the Right Integration | Blog | EnSight+

As businesses increasingly embrace digital transformation and automation, the demand for seamless system and application integration has never been greater. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) are prominent methods for this integration. Each approach has its merits, and their choice hinges on several critical factors.

Aligning your integration strategy with your chosen platforms before diving into the Flat File vs. API debate is essential. Does your chosen platform offer the necessary APIs, and are these well-designed for your needs? This initial assessment can save you from future headaches and setbacks.

Taking a Holistic Approach

Organizations often deal with legacy systems like AS400 (IBM I-Series) or older ERPs that predate the API era. These systems often rely on import-export processes, originally not designed for cloud-based applications. However, with the right approach, these import-export processes can be adapted to interact effectively with cloud applications. Therefore, the choice between Flat Files and APIs should not come down to which is superior but rather be part of a holistic strategy considering the capabilities of all involved systems.

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Comparing Flat File and API Integrations

1. Speed of Integration

Flat File integrations using SFTP tend to be slower compared to APIs. While listening triggers in the SFTP can mitigate some slowdowns, the nature of SFTP creates a natural bottleneck in the integration process. Think of it as companies exchanging letters via a secure mailbox. Data is dropped off in the mailbox, and the receiving system retrieves and processes it, leading to delays. On the other hand, APIs offer direct and faster communication with built-in validation. This speed allows for better error handling and automation, enhancing overall efficiency.

2. Framework of File Payloads

APIs come with predefined frameworks determined by the system developers. However, the inconsistency between APIs can limit integration functionality. It’s essential to evaluate APIs to ensure they align with your operational needs.

Flat File integrations rely on agreed-upon file standards between the ERP and integration companies. While these standards can be pre-established, the unique needs of each business may require additional work to ensure the flat file aligns with specific processes, such as sales order creation.

Advantages and Disadvantages



Speed, consistency, ease of integration, and a predefined framework make APIs a known commodity for integration across multiple sites.


Security concerns, technical expertise required, and compatibility challenges. APIs, being publicly accessible, can be susceptible to security threats like cyberattacks and data breaches, necessitating robust security measures. Implementing and maintaining APIs requires technical expertise, incurring associated costs and potential resource challenges. APIs may not seamlessly align with all systems and applications, potentially complicating efforts to achieve comprehensive integration.

“Flat-File” Integrations


Security assurance, reliability, and broad compatibility. SFTP boasts robust security features, including encryption for data in transit, bolstering protection against potential security vulnerabilities. SFTP is a dependable protocol that ensures safe and loss-free data transfer and promotes data integrity. It is compatible with most systems and applications, facilitating comprehensive integration efforts.


Limited functionality, time delays, and complexity. Primarily designed for file transfers, SFTP lacks the extended functionalities associated with APIs, limiting its application scope. SFTP operates in batch file transfers, potentially leading to time delays that render it unsuitable for real-time data exchange scenarios.

When choosing between API and SFTP integration methods, organizations must weigh multiple factors, including security, real-time data exchange, compatibility, technical expertise, and functionality. While APIs excel in real-time data exchange and ease of integration, SFTP offers superior protection and broad compatibility across systems and applications. Ultimately, the choice should align with your organization’s specific needs, data transfer or exchange requirements, and the overall context in which these methods will be applied.

EnSight+ is an integration software. Flat files are effortlessly integrated through our user interface in hours. Other supported integration options include Shapefile, XML, Web API, REST API, and SOAP API. Contact your EnSight+ Custom Success Rep to inquire which method is best for your organization. Visit our site and book a demo.



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