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APIs are entering their teens (and surprisingly, it’s good news, not a teenage crisis)


API – or application programming interface – is no longer a buzz word. Adoption by companies, big and small, is growing and legitimacy has been established. In fact, it seems as though APIs have lived their childhood happily, bringing value to the table, helping solve integration issues, making friends with a large community of developers and constantly receiving praise from their adoptive parents, CIOs. To some extent it was easy for APIs to live this life, as a new and important piece of the IT puzzle.

Now APIs, though not exactly teenagers anymore (happy 20th anniversary!), are entering adolescence and, as such, it is time to find answers to typical existential questions.  Who am I? What greater purpose do I serve? What do I want to do later? Who do I want to become?

This must be seen by CIOs as an opportunity to push further the positioning and define the purpose of APIs, up to enterprise strategy levels. The process is likely to be difficult, but we believe the outcome will be worth the pain. The following three recommendations will help CIOs in managing this transformation successfully.

  1. Define API’s life goal: become strategic 

The capacity of APIs to enable the digital transformation of enterprises is the primary reason they have had so much attention from their developer friends and CIO parents since birth. After all, they provide easy solutions to create new channels for customers and develop new services and products. They’re also agile enough to survive the new way of life in today’s digital IT world based on Cloud, IoT and AI.

But being an enabler is not enough to stay relevant in the long term. Making APIs a strategic asset of your enterprise technology vision is a better way to ensure their profitability for the enterprise family. Therefore, CIOs should guide APIs in their quest for maturity by incorporating these ‘teenagers’ into their operating models, their governance and their organization – developing skills, processes and responsibilities around them. Going through these stages will take a while, but see it as a rite of passage to adulthood, from IT legitimacy to business legitimacy. Then everybody will see what APIs can really do, even the Business ‘uncle’ that never really cared about them!

  1. Keep an open mind when building your API ecosystem 

Even if APIs are instrumental in opening up enterprise Information Systems, they have not been introduced with the intention to help build new architecture patterns. This can be fixed, however, as APIs certainly have the power to be key pillars of such patterns, along with microservices. Yet everything is not plug and play with APIs. In a world with more and more APIs, interoperability issues are still a thing (perhaps more than ever) and this needs to be taken care of by the right teams. This is absolutely key to make sure data exchange and service consumption work smoothly anytime, anywhere, any device (ATAWAD), both inside a company’s own IS and outside with any API maker.

To make it more tangible, we are talking about managing efficiently and simultaneously cloud2cloud, onprem2cloud, batch, real-time exchanges, with an urgent need for end-to-end monitoring and other tough challenges. If these challenges are not addressed, handling data and information flow could become a burden and extend the adolescence crisis for quite some time. The fight to give birth to a state-of-the-art open, agile and data-driven Pervasive Information Platform is definitely worth preventing these architecture challenges from becoming jumbo quagmires.

  1. Focus on APIs’ strengths with industrialization    

Just like anything that was ever created by humankind, the first APIs were handcrafted, built as unitary, template-free components. As it became clear that APIs were not going anywhere anytime soon and were set to become IT standards, they needed to, well, be standardized. The first normalization and automation initiatives helped APIs grow in a structured way and tackle some (but not all) of the interoperability topics mentioned above. A good example is the https+REST+Swagger norm (OpenAPI), which is now widely adopted. Yet many issues remain, such as performance and versioning, and call for a greater industrialization movement. While it should never hamper agility efforts, industrialization is essential for APIs to become strategic assets, understood and easily used by virtually anyone, and to prepare enterprises for disruptive business moves.

This implies that APIs cannot remain technical objects and cannot remain IT-centric. Productization is the way to go to establish client, business and value centricity. It means managing, marketing, monitoring, continuously improving and, all of a sudden, we are looking at business assets and no longer at IT assets! But this cannot be 100% achieved without knocking on business leaders’ doors, on-boarding them on why this is life-changing and earning their full endorsement and engagement. If APIs are discussed in Executive Committees, you win (or at least you give yourself a very good shot at winning).

Nurturing APIs into adulthood

APIs have plenty of (good) reasons to grow and blossom and that is why enterprises need to keep elevating and nurturing them. Again, the journey to make APIs strategic assets is a long one, probably specific to each organization. Nonetheless, it will be a blessing for the whole organization, bringing new opportunities and business models within reach. When IT and business stakeholders find leverage and achieve unity around a common vision and framework for this journey, the true potential of APIs will be unleashed.

Finally let’s keep in mind that this general evolution of APIs positioning is also strongly connected to recent changes in the management tools market (API gateways providers, for instance) with new leaders and new players especially in Open Source; these are transformation accelerators of high importance.

And it is here that I want to emphasize the role of APIs in the ongoing re-invention of technology landscapes and operating models as they transform simultaneously to thrive on digitalization.

Learn more about our point of view on generating business value from transforming at the speed and scale of large enterprises – Simultaneous Transformation.

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Bertrand MASSON is VP at Capgemini Invent in France. Contact him to secure your API Strategy to get the real benefits from Technology and grab new revenues in the Ecosystem Business. +33 6 73 71 97 54.