API Technology 7 Takeaways for Business Success

API, an incredibly business unfriendly term, is key for modern business and much needs to be learned in order to succeed in the digital age. These are 7 business takeaways from a recent technology conference.
diego navia digital operations

By Diego A. Navia

APIs intrigue me. My API journey started many years ago the way you would expect: I heard the term, ignored it for some time and eventually lead teams addressing business requirements by leveraging them internally at very large organizations. Recently I took an extra step and “played” with popular ones (I.e. Google maps, Facebook authentication, ML language translation, AI face recognition, etc) building small web apps. In parallel, I continue to be challenged by the true pillars of the next-gen enterprise beyond the hype of individual technologies and believe API’s hold a big key to a future where agility, modularity, platforms and ecosystems will further reshape industries beyond what we’ve already seen.

With this in mind, last week I attended the API: World developers conference in San José, CA. My objective was to “put myself in their shoes” and gain direct insight into technology practitioners perspective. I wanted to understand their language, success stories, perspectives, issues and “translate” them into business challenges and opportunities available to business people seeking to build a digital enterprise by leveraging API’s. These are my key business takeaways:

1. API, an intimidating term that does a great job keeping business people away

Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation are popular technology labels business people have heard of and may even want to be associated with. Application Programming Interface (API)? not so much. If you ask for an explanation it may get worse as a developer talks about reusable code as well as customer focus (i.e. other developers) that hinges on great documentation and definitions. “APIs have become a foundational feature – before it was just good programming” says August CTO, Christopher Dow. API is a very powerful term yet one that has been confined to developers, software engineers and technically-reliant startups. 

Business services delivered real-time via API’s will represent a major shift in organizational design, control-based culture and change Edit article View stats management tied to a “future of work” that goes beyond task automation.

2. API’s are not new but their business application and value unlock potential is in its infancy

Business leaders increasingly realize API-fueled platforms and ecosystems are at the heart of modern next-gen enterprises. However, ecosystems are not a step evolution of alliances, M&A, collaboration, partnership and legal agreements. The dynamic nature of our times will increasingly demand understanding of business services delivered real-time via API’s and how to orchestrate them in order to deliver a customer value proposition across departments and organizations. This will represent a major shift in organizational design, control-based culture and change management tied to a “future of work” that goes beyond task automation. A new wave of companies such as Zapier, Workato and tray offer Low Code/ No Code applications that promise to deliver connectivity and data flow among applications with a few clicks. 

“API’s are hockey sticks” summarizes the potential explosive sales growth opportunity

3. Commercial success will increasingly be impacted by software developers

Network effects are well documented: getting parties on board is key to ecosystem success. This goes beyond traditional Business Development to become akin to Healthcare Rx Formularies, Cable channel grids or Wireless add-on services; if you’re not part of the catalogue, customers can’t even buy from you. While far from mainstream, established companies like Walgreens and Allstate Roadside assistance understand this. My conversation with the Allstate combined team of IT and BD was particularly enlightening. In fact, eBay’s Gail Frederick “API’s are hockey sticks” statement echoes Salim Ismail’s Exponential Organizations principles summarizing the potential explosive sales growth opportunity.

4. API’s may help realize the operational efficiency potential of BPO, Shared Services and GBS

API’s, Microservices and SOA are some of the terms behind the idea of breaking down computer programs into smaller pieces that are well defined and manageable, enabling scalability without compromising service levels. While this is a very IT-specific dialogue, the same principles can be applied to business functions and in fact much of the componentization criteria is business driven. It’s easy to find common elements with shared services, CoE’s and BPO where full functions, processes or tasks have been grouped together and physically shipped to alternate geographic location pursuing scalability, specialization and economies of scale; only for those get diluted due to silo/political issues as well as the achievement of cost savings via wage arbitrage.

It may be time to target, invest and nurture a select group of true business architects that understand both technical and business

5. Time to invest in true business architects as the IT-business disconnect will not get better any time soon

Layers of technology components increase while non-tech people increasingly struggle to deliver their day job while grappling with new business roles, change pressures, employment threats and a basic understanding of technology terms. Given this reality, it may be time to target, invest and nurture a select group of true business architects that understand both sides. Individuals that when asked what they prefer between business and technical, say both; those you know can hold the attention of a room full of business people, yet they can put together a prototype by themselves and talk to IT to get a major project done. Bigger teams, committees and 8-figure dollar spend will never replace key folks and are likely to make the problem worse.

Amazon may not get enough credit for the impact of its API-based operating system and the operational blueprint it provides for other organizations

6. Vision, courage and leadership are more important than ever to bridge the gap between business and technology

Jeff Bezos decision in 2002 to evolve its monolithic software architecture to a modular API/SOA/Micro services architecture accompanied by a precise set of organizational expectations in his manifesto/ communication shows the clarity of vision, courage and leadership most enterprises will require to scale and lead as Amazon does. By doing this he effectively set an example for modular next-gen enterprise operating models with success well documented by Wall Street. This was 15 years ago and since then very few companies have followed this path, Netflix being one of the most recent successful examples. This begs the question, is it about the latest and greatest technology or about the ability to embrace them?

7. Not all is new, techies need help too

At times it’s hard to believe those leading the technical guts of progressive Silicon Valley companies need any help. Yet eBay has been rearchitecting itself, adopting mainstream corporate elements such as a Service Catalogue to aid its business, reducing returns from 73 types to 5. Silos are also an important hurdle to overcome. For one, many developers end up talking to fellow developers, perpetuating a cycle where some of them become the drivers of “business needs”. Technology specialization also create silos to the point developers may ignore even major tech alternatives to solve a business problem. Case in point, the lead founder of a well-recognized Silicon Valley startup pitched API’s as key to tackling business productivity and automation yet had a hard time outlining the advantages vis-à-vis Robotic Process Automation (RPA), probably the most popular technology in business circles these days to solve the same problem.

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