I Love APIs Conference Focuses on Digital Transformation

Mark Boyd
Aug. 20 2014, 01:34PM EDT

This year’s I Love APIs Conference, organized by Apigee (to be held Sept. 8-10 in San Francisco), targets the business side of API strategy and unpacks the role APIs are playing in the digital transformation of business. Sam Ramji, VP of strategy at Apigee, spoke with ProgrammableWeb about the event.

Starting With Line-of-Business Stakeholders

“We have several hundred business leaders, IT managers and developers coming to the second annual I Love APIs Conference,” Ramji told ProgrammableWeb.

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“We focus on having roughly equal participation from each of these groups, because succeeding at digital business requires business, IT and developers to work together. It requires art, science and a lot of persistence,” says Ramji.

“Generally our attendees are on or near the line of business — a business, service or product unit that is part of a global enterprise. In some cases they are from centralized groups such as corporate marketing or central IT. The change represented by APIs and apps has generally been driven by pragmatic need by the line of business: ‘ship this mobile app,’ ‘integrate this set of partners,’ " he said.

'Every Company Is a Tech Company'

Business analyst and founder of Platform Thinking Sangeet Paul Choudary has highlighted Apigee’s approach to working with business as an effective model in helping businesses transform themselves toward a digital focus.

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Above: Slide from Ramji’s 2010 presentation on API Business Models

“All businesses have data to build on top of, so every company is becoming a tech company thanks to APIs,” Choudary told ProgrammableWeb. He points to successful models such as Facebook, which has turned social relationships into data; LinkedIn, which has done the same with professional relationships; and Zillow, which has turned houses into data points. APIs are then used to help make connections between these data points and customers, who themselves are another set of data points.

“Going forward, those who win will be those who invest and create a vision around being an open platform. Companies like Apigee see this as an opportunity and go into companies and try to help them turn siloed data into APIs that developers can use,” he said.

Choudary sees Apigee as one of the leaders in being able to help businesses not only identify their data assets, but identify the core data assets around which a platform model can be created. “There is that challenge in terms of everything being siloed,” Choudary explains. “There has to be a core identity unit around which the data strategy can be created.”

Platform Business Models

Ramji agrees:

Sangeet is a leading thinker on platform strategy and works with the MIT Center for Digital Business, which we draw inspiration from. We are driving awareness of data-centric business models, and we’ve built infrastructure to support those models.

Most enterprises focus only on building what they know how to sell, and unless you’re a company like Morningstar or First Data, you don’t know how to sell it.

What we’re seeing is a set of business models based on constant inbound data streams, and the valuable product is not the stream itself, but the real-time analytics of that stream. For example, Twitter gives away access to its fire hose, and Tradier gives away standard market data; but Twitter sells access to real-time analytics on media engagement, and Tradier sells real-time trending analysis.

We’re all working together — Apigee, our customers, our partners and the API industry as a whole — to better understand what the future looks like and what business models will work. The nature of the conference is a series of open conversations between all of us, partly reporting on what is working now and partly speculation on what will work in the future. A core part of Apigee culture is a sense of "flat hierarchy" — knowledge and information can come from anywhere. Our job at the conference is to make sure that there’s a strong flow of knowledge in all directions and a warm sense of trust and brainstorming.

Digital Transformation

One of the key themes at this year’s conference will be how digital transformation is impacting all businesses and industries around the globe. Michael Skok, a business analyst and VC partner at North Bridge, sees this as an emerging “cloud front” that is creating new business products and services that were not possible previously. Combining customer location and preferences with available services and products, analyzing price-on-demand factors and enabling mobile transactions all in one service is a business service that just wasn’t possible without the cloud and APIs, Skok writes.

In the fourth annual Cloud Computing Survey conducted by Skok, he points to the first cloud era as being a “transitioning” stage, where businesses turned their offline assets into online data, as Choudary says. Skok is now seeing a second era emerge, where APIs are enabling the cloud to transform industries more profoundly.

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Above: Ramji quotes Dion Hinchcliffe’s web distribution model, showing the central role of APIs in enabling digital transformation in his 2010 Apigee presentation.

Apigee’s conference aims to delve into where businesses are located on their transformation trajectory and to discuss the best ways forward. Ramji explains:

We see digital transformation generally following three distinct phases: project, program and platform.

In the project phase, an enterprise may not even realize that it is in digital transformation; it’s acting pragmatically to get apps and APIs in the hands of customers, employees or partners.

In the program phase, multiple projects have gained some self-awareness, and the enterprise realizes something new is afoot; digital transformation must now be managed in a common way to guarantee successful outcomes, with a common methodology and governance.

Finally, in the platform phase, the enterprise has grasped the art of "outside-in" strategy and has built themselves as a single, consistent digital entity serving the needs of its ecosystem; furthermore, it understands platform business models and has implemented them in one or more lines of business.

As a whole, we see roughly 10% of companies at the platform stage of transformation, with perhaps 25% at program and 65% still at the project phase. Many of the obstacles of moving forward on the maturity curve have to do with good old-fashioned change management — "moving the cheese" — so that a wide range of conceptual and behavioral shifts can occur. These happen through conversations between those who have made it happen — many of our speakers are business and technology leaders in the top 10% — and those who are working hard to understand how to make it happen. Last year’s conference got very strong reviews for exactly this kind of networked information sharing.

(This digital transformation model also closely matches the Accenture's proposed API Maturity Model.)

Speakers at Apigee’s conference include:

  • Andreas Constantinou, CEO of VisionMobile
  • Heather Mickman, senior group manager of retailer Target’s technology services
  • Mike Gualtieri, Forrester principal analyst
  • Pai-Ling Yin, a Stanford University social science scholar

Ramji, whose 2010 presentation “Darwin’s Finches, 20th Century Businesses and APIs” is still heavily viewed on SlideShare (with more than 91,000 views to date), will speak on platform models, but he is excited to hear from other presenters across the two-day event:

I’m looking forward to a lot of sessions, including the keynote roundtable, where successful digital leaders will discuss their transitions from project to platform; Aneesh Chopra (ex-CTO of the U.S.) is a great speaker and always inspiring; and I get to moderate a panel at the end of the first day with Marshall Van Alstyne of the MIT Center for Digital Business and Boston University along with a set of digital business leaders. Those are my favorite sessions because I get to be a student on stage and ask all of my burning questions.

Developers, API business strategists and IT managers can register to attend at the I Love APIs website. ProgrammableWeb will be blogging live from the event.

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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