The hype around API belies the fact that this technology has been bubbling away under the radar for some time.
But thanks, in part, to a significant contribution to today’s hyper-personalised customer experience, the technology’s profile has exploded as it evolves from a simple gap-bridging development tool to a true innovator of web and cloud applications, merging the physical and mobile world.
It’s a move that has put it at the heart of digital strategy and transformation, and framed the API narrative around the user experience. As predictive analytics push customer intelligence visibility onto the shop floor, APIs have proven to be a natural ally, bringing greater mobility and agility to the handling of this data in real time to create a far more immersive shopping experience, driving mobile purchases, and increasing the percentage of customer interactions which flow through them.
Equipped with mobile devices, shop assistants are freed from the shackles of their tills to interact with the customers around the store. Stock availability can be checked via an iPad and with a customer’s purchase history at their fingertips, the tools are in place to tailor the service accordingly in real time.
It’s just one example of the technology’s inherent ability to create significant business value which has sparked a flurry of open API ecosystems, as a growing number of businesses have sought to capitalise on the rewards to be reaped through greater collaboration—an approach which most notably powered Twitter’s explosive growth.
Enterprises have cast their nets wider to allow third-party developers to access their APIs and make their IT assets available to the largest possible user base. Developers and outsiders can add value quickly and cheaply to the network to enrich the platform, while tapping into the size and reach of larger players to get a slice of the already established and successful action, a symbiotic relationship which not surprisingly gathered traction.
But there is a fly in the ointment. The open and larger API platforms may present the greatest business opportunities but at the same time, come with the most significant design challenges and technical risks.Eventually, small developers and external services can become a hindrance, rather than present critical value, as excess users can go haywire in the system.
It’s the reason why the very latest chapter in this story comes with an air of caution, as we start to see a slight shift from a 'more the merrier' ethos and a purely external end-user focus of customers and partners, to looking at how the technology can be better harnessed internally.
Indeed, as part of the ongoing challenge to make in-house teams faster and more agile, internal APIs are emerging from the shadows and gaining greater recognition for providing a foundation from which external strategy is delivered.
At the heart of this focus is making better use of proprietary data which, while unlikely to be shared externally, still has the potential to be far more accessible to a broader section of the workforce to improve and speed up the sharing of information, and to make a whole raft of internal processes more efficient, all while reducing overheads.
In short, APIs have a major role to play as the mechanism that can get departments talking to each other to share information, something which becomes increasingly prerequisite as customers’ demand and expectations necessitate the gathering of unique data from multiple departments.
It’s a process often heavily compromised through a combination of information siloes and lack of a centralized database. Moves to address this and make integration more secure may have included the time-consuming complexity of VPN tunnels, often unable to cope with data loads and creating bottlenecks. Fuelled by a shift in the internal culture from one resigned to working with what the vendor had provided to taking more ownership over developing and integrating software in managing the experience directly, APIs offer a flexible and proactive approach to the flow of information which sees communities around the products developed internally.
Rather than being the poor relation to the user-centric experience, applying the innovation more strategically inside the business and looking inwards can prove to be just as powerful.