For our businesses we recognise the opportunities that a connected digital world can bring, and as customers and users our expectations are continually increasing. I for one feel a pang of disappointment when my hotel sends me an automated reminder email when I've already checked in, or when I enter my address details for the nineteenth time, or need to create my own spreadsheets to manage household expenses... With both demand, and desire for new, more immersive, seamless and personalised experiences on the rise what's holding us back from delivering these in every interaction? In many cases, especially for established enterprises, the trouble is that data and information is locked away in siloed systems deep within an organisation’s networks and tightly bound to the legacy systems and functions that have traditionally collected it. Fortunately, we also know that the driving force behind unleashing the data from source systems both from internal and external networks is through APIs. Again, not a new concept but one that is gaining rapidly in maturity, understanding, and organisations willing to adopt its principles.
Why APIs are important to Digital:
- APIs can enable flexibility inhibited by reliance on core systems. For example, enabling a digital team to change the flow of a product selection process without requiring change to the underlying product catalogue or ordering systems.
- APIs can improve performance and richness of digital experiences by providing a layer of security and protection over older systems, and optimising data formats for the digital UI. Such as enabling a simple dashboard for key information to be presented to a user, when the data displayed comes from a legacy mainframe system that isn’t designed for internet traffic.
- APIs can allow the combination of disparate data sources in new ways that provide more meaning – overlaying meteorological data with journey planning, or being able to manage multiple accounts in one customisable view
- APIs enable external data sources to be made available for sharing in a secure and controlled way – often by partner and adjacent organisations. For example, allowing government organisations to share relevant information about events with community partners or other departments, or hospitals making crucial patient information available to emergency services.
With all this potential it’s not surprising that the API Days conference - held this year in Sydney - was naturally appealing. For 2 full days we learnt about people building APIs, thinking about API strategies, enabling APIs within organisations and the platforms that can support them.
The thought of all that data being released from their prisons of core and legacy systems, shared and analysed, combined and contextualised, optimised and visualised – could fundamentally change how we experience our existence.
Ok, so I’m getting over-excited, but improvements in the way we consume information, the way we interact with our environment and how we navigate the digital age can help to address social issues, create competitive advantage, and make a difference in peoples’ everyday lives.
Where to start
As apparent as the eventual advantages of the API Economy might be, the reason we all go to API Days is less about re-imagining our digital future, and more focused on the practical realities of how we can achieve even a small portion of the potential within our own worlds here and now.
Becoming an API-driven organisation doesn’t happen overnight, especially when the current IT processes have been in place for many years and systems have fragmented over time. Monolithic systems were put in place when IT was new and was never going to change.Luckily APIs are not that type of system. Digital embraces change, APIs enable it. With that in mind it is a capability that is best grown and evolved to suit the needs of the business, and definitely something that can start small.
There are a few different ways to approach the development of APIs as an ongoing capability:
One options is to start small and light, test the water, and grow from there. Open source technology, flexible cloud services and an experimental mindset can provide low-commitment basis for proof of concept.
Another is to go all in with a fundamental organisational change which starts in one section of the operation and spreads. Ongoing benefit from an API approach involves changes to development and operational processes and ultimately to IT culture, so recognising that early and making these holistic adjustments can be a key to success over time.
In the luxury of a greenfield IT environment the strategy may be to start with API-enabled platforms from the outset, or maybe to grow into them at predetermined operational milestones as the organisation matures.
APIs offer an opportunity to make IT more meaningful – to enable the digital experience to reach deeper into the enterprise and unleash the potential that is locked away, and to enable technology to excite rather than frustrate.