IBM SolutionsConnect: The API Economy

David Bell from IBM is a Master Inventor – a role which is determined by the cumulative number of patents registered. He spends the majority of his time with test lead at the IBM Hursley Laboratories.

Bell notes that his experience travelling from the UK is characterised by a range of apps which are built around flight data, transport and hotel data, shopping, news and communications data, which is all optimised through the use of APIs.  APIs, says Bell, are the lifeblood of improved customer and business experiences.

In the early days of the WWW, business content was brochureware or limited ecommerce. Now we have a range of devices and services that we need to maximise productivity and profitability.  We need a common approach to handle the data – that approach is APIs.

APIs enable businesses to expose key data and services to reach out to new markets.  they are a public persona of the firm, and they need to be simple to find, and easy to use for developers. And they need to be flexible to adapt to changing needs and technologies.

Bell says that Expedia derives 90% of its revenue from APIs, twitter gets 75% of its traffic from APIs, and eBay gets 60% of its revenue through APIs – in particular through mobile.

The problem of enterprise is that it operates at a steady speed. The Digital ecosystem, however, operates at a very fast speed.  APIs have to sit between the scale and integrated experience within enterprises and to enable sharing and control of data. The API management environment need to allow self service for customers, as well as to track who is using those APIs and to discover what information is valuable and what assists improvement of business processes.

API provision can be private (eg: employee apps), partner oriented (eg: partner integration apps like distribution tracking), or public (eg: consumer apps and innovation products).

David Bell says Hackathons are some of the best instruments to see what’s possible from APIs.  He uses the example of Rewired State in the UK, and the production of customer apps for ASDA label, George.  [JJ: Disruptor’s Handbook’s case study of the Qantas Codeshare Hackathon was just as impressive.] But what was interesting about the Rewired State hackathon was that the event also included a bunch of API developers who were dynamically changing APIs to fit the needs of the app developers.

Bell also discusses M2M Technologies case study of using Internet of Things (IoT) data to improve customer experiences. The company found that customer data, devices and sensors were baked in to the system. This affected performance as well as limiting changes and control of data transfer.  What they had to do was the break out the sensor and customer data using API management.  This gave them the level of flexibility to make changes to data.

Bell challenges businesses to ask themselves – what are their most valuable data assets?  How can you maximise the return on those assets?  This is the time to consider how you might develop APIs to take advantage of that data. [JJ: and this is the time to consider how to ensure you get the best result from innovation facilitation around those APIs.]

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