The amazing power of an API-first approach in business - TechCentral

The amazing power of an API-first approach in business

It used to be that getting value from software in a business was mostly about what technologies were available, and your ability to develop those that weren’t. Creativity – choosing how and why to use those technologies – largely followed.

APIs, or application programming interfaces, have changed that, blurring the boundary between intent and execution. These days, coming up with a business model gets you a long way towards where you want to go. Selecting and managing the right APIs gets you the rest of the way there.

As APIs have developed, they’ve allowed more and more applications (including APIs themselves!) to interact in an ever-increasing number of ways. Bundling APIs together to achieve an end result is often called a “mash-up”. For example, if you were to mash up an API defining locations with one facilitating messaging and one permitting interaction with billing data, you have yourself a simple ride-hailing service such as Uber.

This presupposes what has become known as an “API-first” approach. When you know APIs are going to do the heavy lifting when it comes to integrating the systems you need to drive your business model, you can concentrate on the business model itself. That’s what I mean by the line between intent and execution being blurred: knowing exactly what you want to do comes first. Then you assemble and manage the APIs that allow you to do it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you’re starting out. You can take existing technological components, existing business, reconfigure them, and come out with something new.

Component-led approach

APIs today really suit an incremental, component-led approach, especially when you take advantage of a technology called containerisation. This component-led approach is reflected in the rise of what are called API marketplaces, which catalogue APIs and offer them according to one of several payment models, and API platforms, which allow for API management and a host of supporting tools and services for developers.

An API, like a dog, isn’t just for Christmas. You need to love it, and nurture it, and look after it, and look at the data that’s flowing through it, and understand what that data is doing and what value it’s bringing to you. An API platform is like a pet store; it gives you what you need to make sure your API grows up healthy and vigorous. An important point is that an API platform is not a standalone product. It requires a cross-functional team to enable conceptualisation, deployment and support to maximise the platform’s contribution to effective digital transformation.

Quite often, API environments are initially used for external-facing business development, but once everybody realises their utility, something like 40% of the traffic ends up becoming internal. An interesting pattern which we see emerge among our clients is that lightbulb moment where they realise the power of APIs, and embrace broadening the scope of their application to solve internal issues. The teams will suddenly start asking: “Why can’t we connect our leave application to our pay application in the same way? Our HR systems to our management systems?” And the answer is, of course you can.

To use another metaphor, an API platform is like the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you put the Babel fish in your ear, you can understand any language. If you put an API platform front and centre in your development, you facilitate interactions between applications. The API doesn’t care whether that application is internal or external. (For interest’s sake, we talk about anything going external as northbound, and anything becoming internal being southbound.) And what this quite often means is that with an API, you can find efficiencies, improve useability and extend the longevity of systems within an organisation.

Modern business requires interconnection — the ability to connect to partner ecosystems to enable your business processes, create new products and distribute your offerings digitally. Every modern company needs an architecture and an API ecosystem to become a platform business and compete. Connect with fintechs, telcos and e-commerce providers to find new routes to market.

At iOCO, we’re taking the lead in the African API space. We’ve adopted a product-agnostic approach, evaluating and adopting the best APIs and API platforms on a case-by-case basis. These might include Google’s Apigee, CA API Management – Layer7, Microsoft’s Azure API Management, Salesforce.com’s Mulesoft, or open-source products like Kong and WSO2. We help you future-proof your business with technologies that enable an API-first approach and seamless interconnection. Change faster. Integrate faster. Connect faster. Innovate faster.

About iOCO
Established to simplify ICT, iOCO is Africa’s leading integrated technology services company, with the largest concentration of skills on the continent. As a level-1 B-BBEE end-to-end ICT managed service provider and cloud systems integrator, iOCO operates with over 20 years’ experience. Its team of more than 4 500 specialists delivers custom development and integration, open source, enterprise applications, data and analytics, compute and platforms, digital industries and manage and operate solutions to over a thousand top-tier clients.

Inspired by digitally native Internet organisations (iO) and creative organisations (CO) of the future, iOCO helps customers navigate the path to an exponential future. To achieve this vision, iOCO holds strategic OEM partnership agreements with more than 90 global leaders. iOCO is part of the EOH Group of companies.

For more information, please visit ioco.tech/solutions/appdev.

  • Colin Millar is iOCO sales executive, API initiatives
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