APWhy? Why a Product Without an API is Not a Product At All


September 16, 2019 - 2 Comments

Part 0 – Introduction

Now that I got your attention and you are screaming internally to come up with an example of why this title is clickbait, or just plain wrong, let me back-paddle. Of course your hair dryer will work fine without an API and the same is also true for your coffee machine. But what about your business applications?

As a software guy who loves using and talking about programmability and APIs, I have come to accept  as a sort of law of nature that APIs matter. But you might (and rightly so) ask the question: Why? Why does Cisco—a $240 billion company that many would still place as a hardware vendor—invest in APIs and programmability? Why is Cisco putting out entire certification tracks, similar to the (in)famous CCIE, but this time for developers and programmability? And most importantly why should you care?

Before starting into the “business“ of APIs lets start by clarifying what the words API and programmability actual mean.

APIs, short of Application Programming Interfaces are nothing new. Formally defined, APIs are a set of functions and procedures allowing the creation of applications that access the features or data of another service.

Or in more down to earth terms: APIs are a way for two pieces of software to talk to each other.

APIs talk

Programmability, on the other hand, is the ability to programmatically change the way a device or software behaves.

Potential for innovation and business opportunities

APIs and programmability aren‘t new concepts either. They have been around since the 70’s. However, the boom of the internet (it is a thing, if you haven‘t noticed), and the transition to first Web 2.0 and now to the Web 4.0, where more and more applications are moving from the client to the cloud, have accelerated the API economy into new highs and turned APIs from something developers knew and talked about into a unique selling point for many products. In this brave new world where other services can be integrated into your own, there is a huge potential for innovation and business opportunities.

Take Uber as an example

I am not trying to throw the engineering team at Uber under the bus, but what they basically did was combine the Google Maps API (for displaying cars and calculating routes) with the API of a payment provider (to allow for easy payment on the phone). Sure there are a thousand things that the team over there did but a small startup would certainly not have been able to build a worldwide mapping service while also building a payment gateway that integrates with all major credit card providers and is compliant to all regulations.

The important part here also isn‘t that they used existing technologies to build a new product. That is kind of the point behind APIs. No, the point is that neither Google nor the payment provider thought about this exact use case or had the engineering resources to implement an Uber. But they are still profiting. Uber is paying not inconsiderable fees for the API access. For the API provider, this opens up additional revenue streams, while start-ups get the ability to innovate and build products quickly. Thus:

APIs are both a revenue driver for the companies providing them,
as well as an innovation driver for the engineering teams using them.

The scope of this blog series is to explore the questions of why do we need an API?, What are the benefits and what do you, as a developer, get out of it?

In the next blog, part 1, we will explore the difference between a product, a platform, and an ecosystem. With the basics covered we will then see why platforms and ecosystems, when powered by their APIs, have the ability to deliver a level of customization and user experience that no off-the-shelf product can deliver.

Part two will focus on integrating and connecting different services to deliver real value to your customers by having your tools adapt to the way they work and optimize their workflows instead of boxing them into one pre-defined way of thinking.

In the third and final part, we will then address the elephant in the room and answer the question, “What is in it for you?”

 

Related resources

 

 



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2 Comments

  1. I like the writing style a lot! It lures the reader in! Can't wait for the next one!

  2. OK, you got my attention: looking forward for part one!

    Meanwhile, let me be a bit picky about one sentence: "Of course your hair dryer will work fine without an API and the same is also true for your coffee machine".
    True, but could they work differently (better?) with an API? I think the answer is yes, and I guess it is quite easy to imagine some automatic action being triggered 🙂