Over the past handful of years I’ve commented on a seemingly disconnected bunch of areas: the rise of cloud computing, the forced re-design of how enterprises work, the focus on more project-specific teams, dispersed workers … the list goes on. In the last 12 months of so I’ve seen these formerly disconnected areas converge together into one topic area – call it Enterprise 2.0, SoMoLo (social, mobile, local), the Social Enterprise or whatever; it is starting to look consistent – the need for an organization to be more nimble in reacting to external and internal factors; the need to meet employees’ demands in terms of how and where they want to work; and the desire to unlock data from both inside and outside the organization. You get the picture.
All of these desires are delivered, at least in part, by the cloud – cloud brings a level of agility that allows organization to be more nimble than before. Cloud powers workers in disparate geographies to collaborate on projects. Cloud enables the mobile provisioning of mass information in new ways. Cloud makes insights into vast stores of data more readily obtained.
If cloud is the enabler of this dramatic shift in the way organizations, then the API (Application Programming Interface),is the glue that holds it all together. APIs have an integral part to play in delivering all this agility. Want to give your employees access to data inside legacy systems? An API strategy can help with that. Want to tie together two discrete applications in ways that deliver a specific need? APIs are the glue that binds. Want to set up some cloud infrastructure that lets you scale and deliver in a utility fashion? It is APIs that sit behind much of that.
Given this critical, yet often unheralded, role that APIs play in all of this, it was interesting to read an article by 3Scale CEO Steven Willmott recently. The article is well worth reading in its entirety, but essentially Willmott puts the case that the so-called “App Economy” is in fact better titled the “API Economy.” As Willmott says:
Mobile applications have become the driving force of transformation on the Web, creating not only whole new categories of software, but also creating new ways of consuming content and accessing services.
Much of Willmott’s article focuses on the massive growth of consumer APIs. At the same time however he touches on the fact that there are a number of vendors (including, of course, his own company) that are solely focused on enabling the realization of an API strategy by organizations. These companies do the heavy lifting which allows an organization to focus on the strategy behind their API strategy rather than the mechanics of actually deploying an API. It is this latter trait that makes these companies, and the rise of the API, of such critical importance for enterprises.
I am reminded of an interview I did a couple of years ago with Christian Reilly, an IT executive at Bechtel, the largest construction and engineering company in the world. When talking about cloud as a trend, Reilly was quick to remark that for him, and by extension for many existing enterprises, “cloud” wasn’t a strategy per se, but rather a way of delivering an outcome. Oftentimes this outcome is quite simply the unlocking of existing data, the provisioning of that data across multiple platforms and services and the ability to integrate that data with data from other sources.
The API is the common thread across all of these desires, and it is for that reason that enterprises need to think about their API requirements sooner rather than later.
(Title inspired by Marc Andreessen)
(Cross-posted @ The Diversity Blog - SaaS, Cloud & Business Strategy)