Business Drivers Motivating API Uptake, Enterprise Issues in API Design, and Where the API Industry Is Headed: The Merling Keynote

Mark Boyd
Oct. 26 2013, 08:00AM EDT

In yet a further sign of how APIs are a business capability, Laura Merling, Vice President of Ecosystem Development & Platform Solutions at AT&T Business Solution described some of the key insights into business processes that are emerging as AT&T reorients itself as a platform in an afternoon 'fireside chat' at API Strategy and Practice. Laura Merling is well known as a key thought leader in the API space, having worked with Alcatel-Lucent and Mashery, and with a background in business analysis at major international brands.

Drivers encouraging business to establish an API strategy

Merling shared some of the changing dynamics that are driving businesses towards establishing an API strategy. Developers and internal evangelists can speak to these drivers to more quickly gain organizational buy-in and communicate better with the C-level. In AT&T's discussions with their company customers and partners, most are moving to an API now because:
1. They are expected to do more with less (therefore need a pluggable architecture)
2. They want to use technology as a competitive advantage
3. They are being driven towards a global untethered business (i.e. global and mobile).

APIs across a business

Organizing APIs across the organization revealed that enterprise API developer teams need to connect and have contact with every corner of a business' operations. One example Merling gave was when mapping API needs across the enterprise, they needed to reach out and establish relationships with every subject matter expert in each part of the business.

In addition, they also needed to make some decisions about when to introduce a layer of abstraction. Merling gave the example of creating billing system APIs for use with external suppliers and contractors. Along the way, they discovered multiple billing systems and instead of creating an API for each, they built an abstraction layer that could feed into each system via a single API.

Understand enterprise problems, don't sell them an API

"It's a question of how do people connect and what do people connect to," said Merling. "At AT&T, we have 10 advisory councils, so we held a series of innovation games with the advisory councils. We wanted to learn what their business problems were and wanted to help them solve them, we didn't want them to buy a feature of our API.

"So we asked them to build the data center of the future. The IT people build a lego wall around the perimeter, and then they put people in an airplane or a car or in a mall outside the data center. This is how they are thinking about their business. So for AT&T it means we have to do things around wifi, connected car, low energy bluetooth, all kinds of things. For us it was thinking about the points of access and what capabilities are necessary, and what do you deliver as platform-as-a-service, and what do you have people access the network for", described Merling.

Crystal ball gazing with APIs

Merling also indicated where we are headed with the next five years of 'oh my gosh, what do we do now' in the API industry.

Merling asserted that a lot more enterprises and businesses will be using solutions that draw on a data flow from a larger number of APIs. "For those using multiple APIs to stream in numerous datasets and for those building composite APIs to create business process workflow, you need to figure out where they fall over and be able to identify and address that."

API Strategy and Practice Conference concludes this afternoon. ProgrammableWeb will be releasing more stakeholder and leadership interviews from the event throughout the coming week.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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