APIs: Steam Engines for the Digital Revolution

APIs facilitate today’s digital revolution, similar to how steam powered engines enabled the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s. When you withdraw money from an ATM, check the weather, or buy a new pair of shoes, you’re using hundreds of APIs behind the scenes.

APIs are transformational because they allow for an organization’s functionality and data to be exposed to third parties. When those third parties discover and consume that functionality and data, they often add more value than the sum of the APIs they consume. APIs democratize access to functionality and data, similar to and building on many principles just like the World Wide Web does.

APIs are great for all involved:

  • For end-consumers, APIs allow for functionality and data to be consumed from any device, anywhere. Gone are the days when the only way to interact with an organization was through a browser-based website on a desktop. Consumers are now fully immersed in mobile devices, tablets, voice, wearables, and even “smart” devices like internet-connected refrigerators. They’re accessing functionality and data through third parties like social media and messaging platforms, native apps accessed through proprietary app stores, and native clients like those found in cars and appliances.
  • For organizations building consumer-facing experiences, it’s easier to consume functionality and data as a service over an API rather than downloading, installing, configuring, running, and maintaining large stacks of software and hardware. It makes a lot more sense to pay a vendor to run multitenant copies of the software for you at scale. You just get an API that you can code to, with the functionality delivered as a service. No need to install anything.
  • Software vendors like exposing their functionality and data as APIs because it allows outside developers to wire functionality and data into their applications in pieces. Rather than a large one-size-fits-all software package that must be entirely adopted and then customized, an API-based approach allows for developers to consume smaller, more granular pieces of functionality from specialized “best of breed” vendors. This strategy is how the public cloud vendors have changed the face of IT.

Perhaps the most important advantage of APIs is time-to-market for all parties involved, which is arguably the most important competitive differentiator in today’s digital revolution. Developers can simply consume little building blocks of functionality, similar to the Amazon Web Services model. Organizations don’t have to download, install, configure, run, or maintain anything. Software vendors can release new functionality to APIs many times a day, provided each API is backed by a separate microservice with its own team, application, infrastructure, and release cycle. Unless the change was big enough that it necessitated a breaking change to the API, the consumer of the API can start using the new functionality immediately without having to do anything.

To go deeper, take a look at our new book – APIs for Modern Commerce.

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