4 Ways APIs Are Being Talked About in the Enterprise

Opening a panel on enterprise use of APIs this morning at API Strategy and Practice in Amsterdam, Kin Lane of API Evangelist, said that “Where the enterprise is colliding with web APIs is fascinating. Helping enterprise understand web APIs, but also helping web developers understand the enterprise is an essential next step.” Helping unpack enterprise use of APIs, were panelists Isabelle Mauny, Director of Product Management at WSO2, Ismail Elshareef, Open Platform at Edmunds, Laura Heritage, Principal Consultant at SOA Software, and Toralf Richter, Senior Manager Engineering at Tom Tom Business Solution.

1. Why are APIs capturing the attention of enterprise?

In their latest quarterly mobility report, Good Technology reported a 54% growth rate in the use of mobile apps developed in the enterprise - all being driven by API usage. Meanwhile, the increasing number of quality, cloud-based infrastructure-as-a-service and business-process-as-a-service products — and the availability of their APIs to integrate with enterprise legacy systems — means that 70% of enterprise CIOs are expecting to change technology and software providers in the next 2-3 years (according to Gartner).

Isabel Mauny from WSO2 believes that while, “from a technical point of view, a lot of things have evolved from SOA (with REST accelerating Integration architecture), and internal consumption of APIs growing”, that it is the business aspect of the conversation that currently has most traction. “From a business aspect, silos are being broken down within companies as they look for new ways to connect with consumers.”

Laura Heritage from SOA Software agreed, adding “Companies are seeing revenue tied to APIs now.” This has been a huge driver for growing C-level interest in reorganizing business processes to take advantage of the benefits that APIs make possible.

2. The API pathway in the enterprise

“At Edmunds, APIs started as an internal capability, with internal use cases in mind,” said Ishmail Elshareef from car retailer, Edmunds. “So when we opened up our APIs externally, they didn't make a lot of sense to the public. We needed to go out and understand the different use cases that external developers need for using our APIs.”

Heritage says there are four main adoption patterns to increasing use of APIs in the enterprise:
“1.Internal apis - consuming external sources via API or creating APIs for internal integration,
2. Partner apis
3. Mobile - every mobile strategy should have an API and security strategy at its base, and
4. External development of APIs for third party developers.
I see it in that order of requests coming in from enterprise.”

3. Storytelling to onboard internal stakeholders

Elshareef urges internal evangelists wanting to build support for an API strategy in the enterprise to work with where internal stakeholders are at: “It all comes down to storytelling. It is very important to know different stakeholders and what motivates them. Lawyers want to protect the company; business development wants to sell more; developers want to be able to build applications and pages faster and easier. You need to articulate how APIs will help for each of these audiences.”

Lane adds: “And you need to tell a story they can take to their networks,” recognizing that each of those internal stakeholders will also need to sell the idea on amongst their networks, in order to successfully introduce an API strategy across a company.

4. APIs make moving to a platform mindset possible

As more businesses recognize the need to be flexible in how they enable their services and data to be used by business and end customers, the idea of reconfiguring a business’ overall approach into working as a platform begins to emerge. For Elshareef, having APIs in use across the business’ activities meant that it was much easier for the business to solve how it could offer its data and capabilities as a platform in new channels and markets, for example, in the IoT-world of the connected car:

“We look to the idea of the platform as being a way to expand our business, and we have been using APIs to build our platform. Without having gotten people to change their minds about how we use APIs across the business, we couldn’t have built the understanding of being an ecosystem. We couldn't have entered into the connected car market without having had that platform mindset in place.”

Toralf Richter from Tom Tom agreed. He sees that opening APIs may come first, but that after that, people begin thinking with a new mindset about how opening up internal use of an API reaches out to an ecosystem around the company.

Startups and innovative smaller players currently have a time-to-market and flexibility advantage in making use of newer technologies, but enterprises are quickly paying catch up, seeing APIs as a way for them to become more agile themselves. How enterprises take up APIs will be keenly watched by all API providers looking for potential new business opportunities and by smaller businesses and startups looking at what — and what not — to do.

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

Be sure to read the next Enterprise article: SOA Software Releases Lifecycle API To Keep Pace with Enterprise API Maturity