How API Management Accelerates Digital Business

Business opportunities are no longer dominated by ideas like seasonality or a fixed set of channels that connect customers and the organization. As the numbers of connected devices, digital platforms, and technologically-empowered consumers have exploded over the last decade, windows of opportunity have grown both shorter and more frequent.

Often, what’s important isn’t whether a business or institution offers a given service so much as how agilely the business can adapt that service to changing consumer preferences. It’s not whether a media asset exists in a company’s catalogue, for example — it’s whether users can access that asset in the contexts they want or need. Likewise, it’s not whether users can look up their healthcare data — it’s whether that data surfaces at the right moment and with the right presentation to improve user health. And so on.

Across virtually all industries, in other words, possessing proprietary assets increasingly isn’t enough if the organization isn’t also able to agilely leverage those assets to adapt to rapid shifts in user behavior.

For CIOs, this creates a mandate to accelerate the business. Technological and organizational challenges must be overcome to support faster, more responsive processes. Legacy approaches to IT architecture, such as monolith apps built with traditional integration techniques, cannot keep pace in today’s digital world and need to be rethought.

API management is central to this transformation — and management is the operative word.

APIs themselves provide the connections between apps, data, and services. At their least useful, that’s often all they do — provide plumbing between digital assets.

Well-managed APIs can do a lot more. Whereas many businesses needlessly recreate APIs for every new project, a business that manages its APIs can leverage and re-leverage them, saving development time and turning the APIs into a platform for building new digital products around the business’s core services.

Well-managed APIs don’t just serve as functional pipes — they provide developers with a familiar interface that is easy to work with and that masks backend complexity. They’re accompanied by thorough documentation and other resources, and they’re viewed not as middleware but as products that empower developers to expand a company’s services into new apps, digital experiences, and business models. They don’t just provide connections — they also generate analytics about developer and user behavior, helping companies to improve both the API products they offer to developers and the products their APIs are used to build for end users.

Real-World Examples of API Platforms

Businesses across virtually all industries have leveraged API platforms to transform or accelerate their businesses. There are many examples among businesses that were born on the Internet, most of which use APIs as the de facto standard for connecting data, apps, and services. Google Maps, for examples, is both a standalone service connected to Google’s larger ecosystem of services, and an API available to third-parties, such as the ride-sharing companies that use Google Maps for their navigational services.

It’s not only Internet natives driving business with APIs, however. Well-managed APIs have also been central to many legacy businesses’ digital transformations, too. Indeed, APIs power virtually all modern digital transactions, from replying to emails to making a mobile purchase to logging a customer interaction in a CRM. The number of global API calls is staggering and growing literally by the second — as of earlier this year, Google’s network alone received over 86,400,000,000,000,000 API calls per day.

Here’s how some of the enterprises and organizations that work with my employer, Apigee, have leveraged APIs to extend and re-create how they operate:

  • Walgreens: By opening its core services, such as printing photos and filling prescriptions, to third-party developers via its API program, Walgreens has added hundreds of partners, extended its brand to new areas, and blended physical and digital retail into an omnichannel model. Walgreens now fills more than one prescription every second via mobile devices and has found that customers who use its mobile app spend more than those who do not.
  • AccuWeather: AccuWeather uses APIs to provide weather data to a host of partners across a range of devices, from mobile apps to connected cars. The company recently focused on individual developers, offering APIs for different types of weather content (e.g., up-to-the-minute forecasts vs. daily forecasts) and flexible usage-based billing. Within two months of AccuWeather making these APIs available through a developer portal, over 6,500 developers have registered accounts.
  • Magazine Luiza: One of Brazil’s largest retailers, Magazine Luiza leverages its API platform for a range of new services and business initiatives, from an internal app that helps in-store employees to better answer customer questions to an online marketplace that helped the brand attract new vendors and increased the number of SKUs it offers by over 6x in only a few months.

API Management: Three Core Competencies

We’ve covered how API management helps companies to accelerate and transform their business — but how can CIOs evaluate API management capabilities to ensure they’re investing in what’s important? Below are tips for evaluating three core competencies of API management:

Connected Experiences

The API management platform should help the business bridge legacy systems to modern applications, e.g., hiding clunky UIs and processes behind a clean API facade, unlocking silos in order to create a unified, brand-wide customer experience, etc. To make it simple and fast for an organization to deliver connected experiences, the platform should provide developers and partners controlled access to systems, functions, and data, all while also maintaining control and reliability of backend systems.

These capabilities help businesses to enable agile development and product delivery, and to offer APIs to partners and external developers that expand the brand’s reach, facilitate ecosystem participation, and enable new customer use cases and business models.

Operational Efficiency

Meeting the demand for faster execution and improved efficiency means CIOs also need to wrangle increased ecosystem complexity — e.g., APIs running across a variety of platforms and device types, utilized both within the enterprise and by external partners. This complexity is only amplified as businesses increasingly leverage not only on-prem systems for critical workloads and data, but also multiple clouds.

The API platform should provide cloud-agnostic tools that provide visibility and control across any deployment scenario, whether it involves a corporate data center, hybrid clouds, public clouds, SaaS applications, or any other architecture that becomes necessary. The platform should help the enterprise to manage access to APIs, understand consumption patterns, automate repetitive tasks and processes, and keep data flowing to the right places at the right time.

Actionable Intelligence

The API platform should help the enterprise to harness analytics and machine intelligence to make smarter decisions and fortify the business’s security. The platform should generate insights into API usage and traffic, developer behavior, and systems operations, helping the organization to define and measure improved KPIs and to flow API data into resources such as Google’s Big Query for more sophisticated analysis. The platform should be able to identify behavioral anomalies and allow the enterprise to protect against bots and other threats while maintaining user experiences.