Last Wednesday the API Congres was held in Rotterdam. It was the third time visitors could listen to presentations about APIs. During this day speakers shared their views, experiences, knowledge, and products with regards to APIs.
The conference was mainly business oriented. There were some technical tracks, but in general, APIs were discussed from a business perspective. And, in my opinion, that’s correct. APIs need to add value to the business, e.g. cost reduction or new services.
The presentation from Google even talked about radical innovation, not incremental innovation. Instead of a 10% improvement, aim for a 10 times improvement. This requires a completely new approach because after years of incremental innovation, there are no processes that we can increase 10-fold. I like the idea; I call it Digital Imagination.
There were a few tracks in parallel, and of course, you cannot visit them all. So, I’m sharing the most interesting points of view that I’ve heard. You might expect from an API conference to hear at least one mention of a typical HTTP verb that is associated with an API like GET or POST. But in this case, I did not hear any of that during the entire day.
It’s not all about APIs
What’s interesting to realize is that even if you’re starting with a blank piece of paper and you have the opportunity to really start from scratch (like Duxxie did), the world is not entirely made of APIs. For instance, APIs are really a connection point to a modern microservice. But as one of the speakers pointed out, in the ecosystem that you are operating as an organization, it’s not just you. There are partners, suppliers and other parties who might have a system that isn’t able to connect using APIs, so you need to do transformation and mediation.
In some of the presentations a whole backend system was described where the API was literally the last line on the slide deck almost like they were saying: ”And all of this we open up using an API.”
Out of the through, the hype is over
Research firm Gartner uses the famous hype cycle to track technology. According to the speaker from IBM, in the latest version of the Application Integration Hype Cycle, full API Lifecycle Management is now starting to enter the Plateau of Productivity.
Now we can really start developing and managing APIs. If you aren’t familiar with the hype cycle, the idea is that when a new technology is introduced, people will believe that it will solve all their problems. They then realize that this isn’t the case and that they need to readjust their expectations. Once they’ve done that, they can start using that technology.
Do not create a divide
Yenlo’s CEO Ruben van der Zwan said, among other things, that we should stop talking about business and IT as two separate worlds. His argument is that they aren’t two separate worlds. They are one world, with two aspects. When you separate business and IT, you’re not helping to build better APIs or build APIs faster. No! By separating saying “them versus us” (regardless whether you are them or us), you create a divide that you then need to bridge. Business needs IT and IT needs business, it’s as simple as that!
Business first. Technology does not matter
Rubens presentation reverberated thinking that shook up the industry in 2003. Nicholas Carr wrote an article in the Harvard business review titles IT doesn’t matter. This was one of the most consequential articles that created an enormous response partly because it was misunderstood.
Looking at technology vendors offering there are of course differences between vendors but in general they offer the same capabilities. The basic technology offers little differentiation.
It really depends on the kind of innovative application you could create using that technology, which will make you stand out from the competition. Think of it as a set of paint tubes, a brush and the canvas. This is the same level playing field for all painters. What you will paint and are able to paint will make the difference.
Ruben talked about Yenlo’s Connext platform where a complete API platform is available on a subscription basis, giving you the opportunity to start working with APIs from a business perspective without having to worry about the IT aspects.
Another analogy to make this clear. If you want to go from A to B is it necessary to own the car to do so or just do you just want to use the car? Ownership can have its advantages but with those also comes significant disadvantages .
APIs grow your business
In general, the consensus was that APIs are a way to grow your business and are the standards for integration. That does not mean of course that everything will be an API. 50 years of information technology have created an IT landscape that is heterogeneous with legacy technology. APIs offer the capability to integrate this legacy technology with modern day components and services. APIs are often just a front to these services whether it’s making a connection to mainframe services or an Enterprise Service Bus that connects to a soap service that one of your business partners is using.
Actions speak louder than words
The conference was held in Rotterdam, where the mentality is: actions speak louder than words. There was a consensus that we should talk less about APIs and do more with APIs.
That doesn’t mean that we should start with APIs unprepared. The presentation from Google described starting with APIs as a journey, the journey to climb a mountain. When I say mountain, think about mountains like the ones in the Himalayas. Mountaineering is tough and dangerous. Could the same be said about starting with APIs? To some extent the answer is yes, but not in the same sense.
Creating an API from a technical perspective is easy. Creating APIs that add business value to your organization, that’s a whole different ballgame. You need the right team with the right people. For instance, an architect, a product owner, a developer, and don’t forget the sponsor on the management level. Without APIs that create revenue or reduce costs, your API projects are dead in the water.
Even if you are a company that has been around for 100 years, have well known products or services and employs tens of thousands of people, you can still be made irrelevant or less relevant by a start up with a brilliant idea.
I would say : “Go on, disrupt your own business before someone else does”, it will at least give you more control.
The key takeaways of the conference for me are:
- Business is in the driving seat, but make sure the rest of the team is also in the car.
- It’s not about what technology you have, but what you do with it.
- Ask yourself: Do I want to spend a lot of time on IT or would I rather be doing business?