Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research at Salesforce.com, has published a compelling post about "The Incredible Importance of Open APIs" over at the Force.com blog. In case you may have forgotten, Salesforce.com's web APIs are an integral part of the company's offerings, with a variety of internal and third party products that rely on these APIs for literally millions of transactions a day (in fact, by January, 2008 Salesforce.com had already served 24 billion API calls).
Peter's post highlights the fact that open APIs are important for companies looking to expand their reach through third party developers and to improve their internal product development by consuming their own APIs. This is especially true of SaaS providers such as Saleforce.com. As Peter puts it:
In the cloud, if you're not interoperable, you're irrelevant. If your APIs don't create new opportunity for developers, you're unattractive.
The fact that Salesforce.com has been able to capitalize on its APIs both internally and externally is the result of a pre-meditated move to emphasize APIs from which products can be built rather than vice versa. Accordingly, these APIs continue to demonstrate their value:
More than half of the workload carried by salesforce.com systems arrives through our API, rather than coming in through the UI of one of the applications that we ourselves offer on our platform. By that measure, we're more an API company than an applications company. That ratio will continue to grow.
Peter's post continues with some discussion about the need for balance between leverage (or lock-in) and portability (openness), both in terms of developers and consumers. There are always pros and cons to either approach that API providers need to weigh prior to releasing an API.
This frame of thinking is in line with some of the other trends that we have witnessed in the last year, in which new API providers such as NPR and Best Buy have realized unexpected benefits from launching APIs, SaaS vendors have begun to wake up to the value of open APIs, and a new Open Mashup Alliance has been created to address the need for standards as they relate to enterprise mashups.
It certainly will be interesting to see whether the push towards open APIs gains more traction this year, especially given how successful they have proven to be for a major SaaS vendor such as Salesforce.com.