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The API Imperative

An enabler

As a technologist, it is still a novel idea for Ben Wylie, Deloitte Consulting Partner that APIs have hit the radar of today’s business leaders. As the co-founder of Sixtree, Australia’s leading integration specialist that joined Deloitte to lead its platform engineering business, he never expected C-Level stakeholders to be throwing around so many technical acronyms and viewing technology as an enabler rather than a cost!

As Ben considers the API imperative tech trend for 2018, he notes that more and more of our Australian customers are transitioning towards establishing a platform business. Rather than obsessing with manufacturing customer value per se – in all its various iterations, the trend is to shift the focus to connecting value from the ecosystem to the customers who need it.

This push to mediate and orchestrate value, rather than produce product, has unquestionably disrupted many traditional industries. The protectionist walls provided by ‘bricks and mortar’ or brand assets per se, have been sidestepped by players to focus on providing engaging experiences for customers with digital expectations.

Today as we know the most famous Internet brands are organisations without traditional assets:

  • Facebook – Produces no content
  • Uber – Has no cars
  • Airbnb – Owns no hotels
  • Alibaba – Holds no inventorye
  • Bay – Has no manufacturing
  • Netflix – Has no cinemas

These organisations have built ecosystems which orchestrate the flow of value between providers and consumers. They typically were established with little or no upfront investment in the commodity itself. As the flow of value matures, organisations have understood how they both contribute to and govern their ecosystems, adding their own value and flavour. They do so in order to:

  • Introduce new partners
  • Uncover new revenue streams
  • Expand their ecosystems
  • Fertilise further adoption

Fundamentally these agendas are fueled by providing richer value and more engaging experiences for customers

While we focus our technical eyes on the architectures pioneered by these internet giants, it makes sense for us to help curate these strategies for our traditional enterprises customers. The important thing is to understand your identity and acknowledge what makes you unique. Once we can agree on what aspects of the value chain can be commoditised, it is possible to selectively leverage 3rd party offerings and platforms to provide scaffolding for that value.

Shedding cumbersome IT obligations and impositions, lets an organisation move with agility, clarity and more energy.

API agendas have been top of mind for many Australian clients as a way to do so, and build ecosystems around core offerings. Although each engagement has its unique ambitions and constraints, it is possible to abstract some common observations across these customer journeys and point to what globally we see as an important 2018 trend.

  • Measurement is key: Many organisations were bitten by SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) investments, and are cautious about investing in API initiatives which promise similar outcomes. However very few firms define metrics to measure the API program success, or instigate ways to measure them and so iterate them if necessary – measurement is key.
  • Patient ROI: Despite encouragement, it’s rare that organisations take a leap of faith to establish an API program that is funded, resourced and operated as a strategic enterprise product. Pilot initiatives which attempt to balance early investment with tangible outcomes (speed / reuse) often introduce adjustments, even compromises and technical debt. Being patient for the ROI makes sense.
  • Speed vs Cost vs Consolidation: Establishing enterprise building blocks as reusable APIs underpins the composable enterprise (a term coined by Warner Music Group CTO, Jonathan Murray to describe an agile, technology-fueled innovation factory). ‘Reuse’ typically enables an outcome rather than is the outcome itself. Reuse and composition of existing API assets can accelerate time to value, reduce implementation cost and reduce the operational footprint supporting the enterprise. Identifying and prioritising Speed vs. Cost vs. Consolidation ambitions, will shape where you might focus within an API initiative.
  • An Iron Fist: The most successful API initiatives are based on a strategic enterprise’s decision, with a C-Level mandate. Hesitation and indecision can be extremely damaging. If nothing else, a strong effort to uplift enterprise capability around API consumption is critical. It is also important to show consumers both why and how to embrace REST APIs, rather sticking to what is familiar. Otherwise having to mediate and adapt traditional integration mechanisms (SOAP / File) and REST APIs, can be an expensive placation. There are myriad quotes on how to avoid failure and achieve success which revolve around maintaining an iron first, or staying the course once chosen, rather than pulling up a horse in mid-flight etc.
  • Investing in agility: When ambiguity is inevitable, embrace it. Rather than focusing on tangible outcomes or deliverables it might be prudent to focus on ‘being quick on your feet. Continuous delivery and DevSecOps philosophies help organisations tolerate and embrace change. Again it is about reaping what you sow. To achieve agility success, invest.’

To find out more about our global API imperative tech trend for 2018 click here

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