With thousands upon thousands of APIs, and more being launched every week, can companies keep up and maximize their use of APIs without the assistance of an API expert?
It's a question raised by a recent blog post by entrepreneur Cyril Gaillard. Titled "I don’t need a business co-founder, I need an API broker," Gaillard's post explains:
... nowadays, [there] are so many APIs available (12,000+ according to ProgrammableWeb) that we need some people who know which ones are worth integrating. It takes 2-7 days to integrate each API, and every time we do it our code base gets a little bigger, so we need to pick them carefully.
So I need somebody who knows the worthwhile APIs and is able to help us promote our integration (on various app stores or on the company’s dedicated page), somebody that can negotiate on our behalf, for the exclusive APIs. In short, an API broker. This person would also help us create our own APIs and promote it, advise us on the the best way to [monetize] it and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately for Gaillard, he hasn't been able to find such a person. The result: He has been "forced to integrate APIs only to turn them off a few weeks later because they weren’t exactly the right fit."
A New Role?
While not every company relies on APIs, and some can benefit more from APIs than others, with thousands of APIs in existence and more being launched every day, the number of companies that have no use for APIs is arguably getting smaller and smaller.
Keeping up with all the APIs could easily require a full-time effort, so the concept of an API broker doesn't seem at all far-fetched. What would such a person do? At the highest level, an API broker role would be focused on helping companies identify and acquire appropriate APIs in two key areas: efficiency and growth.
APIs for Efficiency
Much has been made about the dramatic decline in the costs of creating a startup over the past several years. Thanks to Amazon Web Services and others, scalable infrastructure is accessible to everybody. There's more open source software than ever, and companies like Google and Facebook frequently open source the technologies they develop.
But APIs are also contributing greatly to the decline in startups costs. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel, which can be costly and time-consuming, companies can outsource many of the functional components that are not core to the business. From email delivery to payments to natural language processing, there are tons of APIs that businesses can tap to eliminate headaches and acquire advanced capabilities.
A good API broker would be capable of evaluating the functional components of a company's service and identifying APIs that could be leveraged to speed time to market, reduce cost and avoid undesirable technical complexity.
APIs for Growth
Building and growing a business online is rarely easy. Markets are incredibly competitive, and customer acquisition costs can be significant.
For many companies, tapping into existing distribution channels is the best way to spark growth, and in many cases, those distribution channels are accessed through APIs. In the business-to-consumer space, many companies have used platforms from companies like Facebook and Twitter with great success. In the business-to-business space, there is no shortage of platforms from giants like Salesforce.com to upstarts like AdStage.
It's not realistic to integrate everywhere and with everybody, of course, and the largest, most prominent platforms aren't always the most productive. That's where an API broker would come in, identifying the platforms with the greatest potential to deliver growth that are most aligned with the clients' offerings.
Getting Hands Dirty
An API broker would realistically need to be more than an API analyst. In addition to being able to identify APIs that can boost a company's efficiency and growth, an API broker would need to be involved throughout the API life cycle:
- Negotiation and relationship management. Not all APIs are open to the public or have public pricing. Where appropriate, an API broker should be capable of negotiating for access and the most favorable access terms. And she should be able to maintain relationships with API vendors on an ongoing basis to ensure that any bumps in the road are handled promptly.
- Directing integration. Successful use of a third-party API requires a successful integration. While an API broker may not be a developer by trade, she should have enough technical know-how to manage integrations and ensure that they are completed smoothly.
- Long-term planning. Using someone else's wheel is typically more cost-efficient than reinventing one, but using a third-party API isn't always more cost-efficient forever. Specifically, an API broker would be able to project long-term costs and identify the point at which use of a third-party API becomes more expensive than building functionality in-house as a company scales.
What Do You Think?
Is there a need for API brokers, or will developers need to assume the role's responsibilities? If such a role existed, would your business make use of it? Let us know your opinions in the comments.