As enterprises embark or continue on their Digital Journey, APIs are starting to emerge as a key business capability and one that we need to discuss. Regular readers of this blog will remember that APIs are one of the common threads across the range of architectures we have discussed in Banking, Insurance and IoT et al. In this blogpost, we will discuss the five key imperatives or business drivers for enterprises embarking on a centralized API Strategy.
API Management as a Native Digital Capability..
The use of application programming interfaces (APIs) has been well documented across web scale companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google et al.Over the last decade, APIs have begun emerging as the primary means for B2B and B2C companies to interact with their customers, partners and employees. The leader enterprises already have Digital Platform efforts underway as opposed to creating standalone Digital applications. Digital Platforms aim to increase the number of product and client channels of interaction so that enterprises can reach customer audiences that were hitherto untapped. The primary mode of interaction with a variety of target audiences in such digital settings are via APIs.
APIs are widely interoperable, relatively easy to create and form the front end of many internet scale platforms. APIs are leveraged to essentially access the core services provided by these platforms and can be used to create partner and customer ecosystems. Leaders such as PayPal, Amazon & FinTechs such as Square, Mint etc have overwhelmingly used APIs as a way to not only open their platforms to millions of developers but also to offer innovative services.
As of 2015, programmableweb.com estimated that over 12,000 APIs were already being offered by enterprise firms. Leaders such as Salesforce.com were generating about 50% of their revenue through APIs. Salesforce.com created a thriving marketplace – AppExchange – for apps created by its partners that work on its platform which numbered around 300 at the time of writing. APIs were contributing 60% of revenues at eBay and a staggering 90% for Expedia.com. eBay uses APIs to create additional exposure for it’s products – list auctions on other websites, get bidder information about sold items, collect feedback on transactions, and list new items for sale. Expedia’s APIs allowed customers to use third party websites to book flights, cars, and hotels. 
While most of the Fortune 500 have already begun experimenting with the value that APIs can deliver, the conversation around these capabilities needs to be elevated from an IT level to a line of business to a CIO/Head of Marketing. APIs help generate significant revenue upside while enabling rapid experimentation in business projects. Examples of API usage abound in industries like Financial Services, Telecom, Retail and Healthcare.
The Main Kinds of APIs
While the categories of APIs will vary across industry, some types of APIs have been widely accepted. The three most popular from a high level are described below –
- Private APIs – These are APIs defined for use by employees and internal systems within an organization or across a global company. By their very nature, they’re created for sensitive internal functions and have access to privileged functions that external actors cannot perform.
- Customer APIs – Customer APIs are provided as a way of enabling used by global customers to conduct business using product/service distribution channels – examples include product orders, view catalogs etc. These carry a very limited set of privileges limited to customer facing actions in a B2C context.
- Partner APIs – Partner APIs are used for varying levels of business to be able to perform business functions in the context of a B2B relationship. Examples include Affiliate programs in Retail, inventory management, Supply Orders in Manufacturing & Billing functions in Financial Services etc.The API provider hosts marketplaces that enable partner developers to create software that leverages these APIs.
The Five Business Drivers for an Enterprise API Strategy..
The question for enterprise executives then becomes, when do they begin to invest in a central API Management Platform? Is such a decision based on the API sprawl in the organization or the sheer number of APIs being manually managed etc?
While the exact trigger point may vary for every enterprise, Let us consider the five key value drivers..
Driver #1 APIs enable Digital Platforms to evolve into ecosystems
In my mind, the first and most important reason to move to a centralized API strategy is to evolve standalone Digital capabilities into a coherent Platform. Different lines of business can use these capabilities to develop an ecosystem of applications that can be offered as a SaaS (Software as a Service). The end state of Digital Platforms are to operate business systems at massive scale in terms of customers, partners and employees.
The two central ideas at the heart of a platform based approach are as follows –
- Create new customer revenue streams by reaching out to new customer segments across the globe or in new (and non traditional) markets. Examples of these platforms abound in the business world. In financial services, Banks & Credit reporting agencies are able to monetize their assets of years of customer & product data by reselling them to interested third parties which use them either for new product creation or to offer services that simplify a pressing industry issue – Customer Onboarding.
- Reduce cost in current business models by extending core processes to business partners and also by automating manual communication steps (which are almost always higher cost and inefficient). For instance, Amazon has built their retail business using partner APIs to extend retailing provisioning, entitlement, enablement and order fulfillment processes.
Driver #2 Impact the Customer experience
We have seen how mobile systems are a key source of customer engagement. Offering the customer a seamless experience while they transact with an organization is a key way of disarming competition. Accordingly, Digital projects emphasize the importance of capabilities such as Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) and Single View of Customer (SVC) as the minimum table stakes that they need to provide. For instance, in Retail Banking, players are feeling the pressure to move beyond the traditional transactional banking model to a true customer centric model by offering value added services on the customer data that they already possess. APIs are leveraged across such projects to enrich the views of the customer (typically with data from external systems) as well as to expose these views to customers themselves, business partners and employees.
Driver #3 Cloud Computing & DevOps
This one is all too familiar to anyone working in technology. We have seen how both Cloud Computing & DevOps are the foundation of agile technology implementations across a range of back end resources. These include but are not limited to Compute, NAS/SAN storage, Big Data, Application platforms, and other middleware. Extending that idea, Cloud (IaaS/PaaS) is a set of APIs.
APIs are used to abstract out the internals of these underlying platform services. Application Developers and other infrastructure services use well defined APIs to interact with the platforms. These APIs enable the provisioning, deployment and management of platform services.
APIs have become the de facto model that provide developers and administrators with the ability to assemble Digital applications such as microservices using complicated componentry. Thus, there is a strong case to be made for adopting an API centric strategy when evolving to a Software Defined Datacenter.
A huge trend on the developer side has been the evolution of Continuous build, integration and deployment processes. The integration of APIs into the DevOps process has begun with use cases ranging from using publicly available APIs being used to trigger CI jobs to running CI/CD jobs using a cloud based provider.
Driver #4 APIs enable Business & Product Line Experimentation
APIs thus enable companies to constantly churn out innovative offerings while still continuously adapting & learning from customer feedback. Internet scale companies such as Facebook provide edge APIs that enable thousands of companies to write applications that driver greater customer volumes to the Facebook platform. The term API Economy is increasingly in vogue and it connotes a loosely federated ecosystem of companies, consumers, business models and channels
The API economy is a set of business models and channels — based on secure access of functionality and the exchange of data to an ecosystem of developers and the users of the app constructs they build — through an API, either within a company or via the internet, with business partners and customers.
Driver #5 Increasingly, APIs are needed to comply with Regulatory Mandates
We have already seen how key industries such as Banking and Financial Services, regulatory authorities are at the forefront of forcing incumbents to support Open APIs. APIs thus become a mechanism for increasing competition to benefit consumer choice. The Regulators are changing the rules of participation in the banking & payments industry and APIs are a key enabling factor in this transformation.
Financial Services, Healthcare, Telecom and Retail.. a case in point for why APIs present an Enormous Opportunity for the Fortune 500..
Banking – At various times, we have highlighted various business & innovation issues with Banking providers in the areas of Retail Banking, Payment Providers and Capital Markets. Regimes such as Payment Systems Directive (PSD2) in the EU will compel staid industry players to innovate faster than they otherwise would. FinTechs across the industry offer APIs to enable third party services to use their offerings.
Healthcare – there is broad support in the industry for Open APIs to drive improved patient care & highly efficient billing processes as well as to ensure realtime engagement across stakeholders.
In the Telecom industry, nearly every large operator has developed APIs which are offered to customers and the developer community. Companies such as AT&T and Telefonica are using their anonymized access to hundreds of millions of subscribers to grant large global brands access to nonsensitive customer data. Federated platforms such as the GSM Association’s oneAPI are already promoting the usage of industry APIs.
Retailers are building new business models based on functionality such as Product Catalogs, Product Search, Online Customer Orders, Inventory Management and Advanced Analytics (such as Recommendation Engines). APIs enable retailers to expand their footprints beyond the brick and mortar store & an online presence.
Ranking Your API Maturity..
Is there a maturity model for APIs? We can try listing those into three different strategic options for Banks. Readers can extrapolate these into for their specific industry segment.
- Minimally Compliant Enterprises – Here we should categorize Companies that seek to provide compliance with a minimal Open API. Taking the example of Banking, while this may be the starting point for several organizations, staying too long in this segment will mean gradual market share erosion as well as a loss of customer lifetime value (CLV) over time. The reason for this is that FinTechs and other startups will offer a range of services such as Instant mortgages, personal financial management tools, paperless approval processes for a range of consumer accounts etc. It is also anticipated that such organizations will treat their API strategy as a localized effort and will allocate personnel to the project mainly around the front office and marketing.
- Digital Starters -Players that have begun exploring opening up customer data but are looking to support the core Open API but also introduce their own proprietary APIs. While this approach may work in the short to medium term, it will only impose integration headaches on the banks as time goes on.
- Digital Innovators – The Digital Innovators will lead the way in adopting APIs. These companies will fund dedicated teams in lines of business serving their particular customer segments either organically or using partnerships with third party service providers. They will not only adhere to the industry standard APIs but also extend these specs to create own services with a focus on data monetization.
Increasingly, a company’s APIs represent a business development tool and a new go-to-market channel that can generate substantial revenues from referrals and usage fees. Given the strategic importance and revenue potential of this resource, the C-suite must integrate APIs into its corporate decision making.
The next post will take a technical look into the core (desired) features of an API Management Platform.
 Forrester Research 2016 – “Sizing the Market for API Management Solutions” http://resources.idgenterprise.com/original/AST-0165452_Forrester_Sizing_the_market_for_api_management_solutions.pdf
 Harvard Business Review 2016 – “The Strategic Value of APIs” – https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-strategic-value-of-apis