Opening up their platforms to let developers build an ecosystem on top of it has been a key to success for top tech firms from Apple to Facebook. But they’re not alone. TomTom Telematics, the B2B division of TomTom, the GPS device maker, opened up its Webfleet platform to developers a few years ago and now has over 45,000 devs using its APIs to control 670,000 vehicles. Rowan Pearce over at ComputerWorld explains how it happened.
Webfleet is effectively a SaaS fleet management platform with which clients can track vehicles, monitor hardware and access in-vehicle navigation, among other things. TomTom originally made the decision to open Webfleet in 2009 when it released its first public API webfleet.connect. The API integrated the platform with client ERP systems (enterprise resource planning) to make incorporating Webfleet into company workflows easier. This meant, for example, that using the API a client could manage the despatch of a vehicle every time an order was placed.
“Customers were asking for it; we weren't really building a partner ecosystem back then,” explains George De Boer, International Alliance Manager at TomTom Telematics. This changed five years later when the Amsterdam-based company released several more APIs with the idea to create a developer ecosystem like Apple did with iOS.
Thanks to that push, TomTom now has over 500 software and hardware partners and thousands of developers working on new capabilities for the platform. The most popular of these APIs are: LINK.connect, PRO.connect and OBD.connect. LINK.connect links the tracking system and comms hub with third-party devices. This means, for example, that developers can use the API to collate data from sensors in a truck, like tyre pressure monitors, to deliver information to drivers or dispatch centres. PRO.connect, on the other hand, gives users access to the TomTom Pro 2xx in-vehicle terminal. Access to the terminal lets developers build end-user apps fully integrated with Webfleet. Lastly, OBD.connect helps developers access data from OBD ports (on-board diagnostics), which can give the driver or third parties information on drivers’ behavior. The API’s already being used in Germany to adjust insurance premiums based on drivers’ behaviour on the road.
The secret of the APIs’ success, De Boer explains is down to three things: low barrier to entry, ease of use and reliability/security. From the start TomTom made sure that API docs would be available free, with no need to sign an NDA. Developers could get going with APIs before paying for Webfleet and could keep all IP associated with apps built on the platform. This was essential, De Boer emphasizes, to encourage innovation.
Ease of use came a little later. The first API was built on the SOAP standard. Later, TomTom moved to a RESTful design and JSON to make building apps with the APIs easier for new developers. Lastly, a lot of effort was put into making the system reliable. The APIs have an up-time rate of 99.99%, much higher than the industry average of 99.6%. Privacy and security were ensured through building the APIs to the ISO 270001 standard, the highest privacy and security standard an API can reach.