How Businesses Can Expand Their Reach by Blurring Their IT Boundaries

By Rajesh Doda

The rapid growth of mobile devices along with ubiquitous connectivity has created “always connected” experiences for consumers. This shift has dramatically changed consumers’ expectations for the usability, performance, and accessibility of digital products — which in turn has increased the pressure on businesses to modernize so they can more agilely respond to these escalating customer demands.

Though these trends have increased IT complexity for many businesses, they have also created enormous opportunities for businesses to extend their reach to new customers and even new industries — and to increase revenue.

To make the fullest use of these opportunities, enterprise leaders need to understand how IT modernization is a prerequisite to many of the most exciting new business opportunities — specifically, how the blurring of the traditional network perimeter impacts the ability of a business to engage new customers and business models.

Many Forces are Blurring Boundaries

Not long ago, most enterprises operated their own data centers, with their data and applications protected behind a network boundary that helped businesses to control who had access. For a variety of reasons, this approach’s popularity has steadily declined in recent years. Maintaining a data center is complicated, labor-intensive, and expensive, for example. Consequently, as cloud-based services have become more numerous and demonstrated their reliability, many enterprises have begun to shift their IT spending away from capital investments for their own data centers and toward cloud services managed by external providers.

But efficiency and cost-savings are only part of the appeal of services outside the traditional, internally-managed corporate firewall. To deliver the digital experiences that customers increasingly demand, many businesses have no choice but to look beyond their own first-party assets.

An enterprise’s comparative advantage might be producing great shovels or awesome bicycles or entertaining content, for example, but that enterprise probably doesn’t own the social networks, messaging applications or retail platforms where its customers are congregating — and where its business needs to surface.

Likewise, some other company may own the transaction functionality to let customers make online purchases or the machine learning functionality needed to offer shoppers smarter, more personalized recommendations. No single enterprise is likely to own all the pieces of the connected experiences its customers expect — which puts pressure on enterprises to round out their offerings by forming strategic partnerships, participating in digital ecosystems, and leveraging cloud services.

For example, customers no longer have to open up a dedicated app to request a car from a rideshare service — they can simply ask a voice assistant. Rideshare services didn’t build these voice assistants and providers of voice assistants haven’t expanded into ridesharing; rather, the use case is possible because the company’s respective APIs can communicate. As this demonstrates, when companies reach outside their first-party assets and create services via larger ecosystems of participants, they may enable new synergies that lower friction for customers and open their business to new user groups.

As these forces evolve, enterprises routinely find that their businesses rely on a mixture of internal and external IT assets and an overall architecture managed by both internal and external personnel. This blurs the boundaries that have traditionally separated an enterprise’s data and systems from the outside world.

Managing Blurred Boundaries with APIs

The above forces can obviously help enterprises to unlock necessary revenue channels and important ways of interacting with partners and customers — but the blurring of boundaries also increases complexity. To ensure its services are accessible across different channels, devices, and interfaces, an enterprise needs to ensure seamless interactions across applications, regardless of whether the applications are owned by an in-house team or an external partner.

Similarly, as services and other digital assets are made available across multiple clouds and possibly connected in hybrid configurations to on-premise systems, an optimized orchestration layer becomes important to hiding complexity and providing a unified experience, both for customers accessing digital experiences and operators who keep those experiences online. An enterprise needs control and visibility into this distributed environment, so it can not only combat bad actors but also control, monitor, and learn from the ways digital assets are being used, regardless of where they’re hosted.

Based on my experience working with enterprises across many industries, I’ve found that these challenges can be successfully navigated with an API-first strategy — that is, a strategy in which application programming interfaces, or APIs, are used to connect systems and to assemble applications, whether for the web, mobile devices or the Internet of Things.

The API layer is where interactions happen — where a business’s systems, data, and functionality interact with one another and with assets from the outside world. APIs make digital assets accessible so they can be shared and reused but hide underlying complexity — making it simpler, for example, for an external partner to integrate an enterprise’s services into an application or for an internal developer to more quickly create new digital experiences for customers. Moreover, API management tools let enterprises monitor every interaction, making the API layer a prime location to apply access controls, generate analytics, implement automated security protections, and otherwise manage how corporate digital assets are accessed.

Today’s competitive landscape demands that enterprises support customer interactions beyond the control of their traditional firewalls — and by leveraging APIs and their potential to provide insight into every point of interaction, businesses can bypass complexity and accelerate toward new business models and higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Looking for more IT insights? Read the free report “Unlocking business acceleration in a hybrid cloud world” to discover how CIOs overcome trade-offs to maximize agility in the cloud.

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