APIs are taking off, big time

Published on the 28/07/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson


Air New Zealand API

Just how important are APIs in your business?...

That’s a question worth asking as, from the vendor side, there is a push from those selling API management solutions; take that from whence it comes but take note too of the rumblings from recognised ‘digital innovators’. Among them is Air New Zealand; the airline’s Joey Faust headlined a recent LinkedIn post plainly, stating ‘Why APIs are the Future of Air New Zealand’.

In an entirely coincidental but perfectly well-timed chat with iStart, TIBCO’s APAC/Japan GM Erich Gerber said the sentiment expressed by Faust is hardly out of place. “We hear that a lot; you may tend to think this is a bold statement, but it is becoming standard in many industries, to the point that if you don’t say this as an understated message, then you’re not that hip.”

No implication should be drawn that Air New Zealand is, or isn’t TIBCO’s customer; iStart spotted Faust’s blog ahead of a scheduled discussion with Gerber (although he did say ‘We are talking to those guys’).

‘Hip’ Air New Zealand certainly is. We’ve had a look previously how, under Julia Raue’s tenure as CIO, the airline was putting everything into technological enablement. Right down to the very, very small stuff, like the coffee app. At the time, Raue said it is a technology company ‘with aeroplanes’, a sentiment which, with the prevalence and dependence of modern business on IT systems, is probably applicable to almost any business. Except for the aeroplanes part, of course.

Not just for tech companies
From Faust’s blog: “APIs are also no longer the domain of internet-only companies; it is now the responsibility of every organisation that offers valuable services to expose those capabilities via a secure and well-structured API. This leads to more innovation, more flexibility, and happier customers.”

With all the chatter around digital transformation (and Gerber conceded that the buzzy nature of the term does cause a slight level of fatigue), he said APIs are a fundamental component of DT strategies. “API’s establish an entry point into ‘business events’ which use data sources. For example, apps, which people understand, need to access data sources to deliver useful functionality. APIs also provide access to business processes; when the API is well defined, stable and documented, it means you access the entry points easily.”

Back to Faust, who provided a ‘real life’ interpretation of what Gerber is saying. “This is especially true in the airline industry. Travel is a universal experience, and represents a partnership between [several] different players, the airline being one of the biggest. Being successful in this environment means being agile and being open…an open and comprehensive API ecosystem allows us (and others) to innovate…to realise the future of New Zealand travel.”

Getting fundamental
“This is part of what I keep telling customers and prospects,” continued Gerber. “APIs are a fundamental part of the strategy to ‘get digital’. You want the capability to map business events to your own stuff, so to speak, and you need to integrate in a concerted manner. If you don’t have a comprehensive approach to API management, you could end up with custom coded interfaces, across multiple teams. In today’s environments, it becomes a matter of maintainability and scalability with the same issues we had ten years ago with point-to-point connections.”

That’s a familiar tale of woe, with the ‘bowl of spaghetti’ analogy near at hand. “In hindsight, the story then was simple compared to today…but at the time we thought it was complex,” Gerber quipped.

Quantifying API management is, Gerber said, an interesting question, because it is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ issue. For News Corporation (a TIBCO customer), he said, it is a matter of taking control of hundreds of APIs. More apposite, perhaps, is the ‘volatile’ nature of News Corp’s operations. In an industry in flux, this is an organisation which is obliged to try new things fast to see how it can open new revenue streams and protect existing ones.

Is it a Grail you seek
Gerber said quantifying is ‘a bit like the Holy Grail’. “When we talk to customers to get an idea, you know, how much did you save, how much faster could you go and how many APIs do you have, well, some could quantify that. In the case of News Corp, it has hundreds of APIs, but that is as much as I can say.”

Asked if the Air New Zealand approach, where there is overt recognition of the value of APIs (Faust wrote “We are taking a product-based approach to APIs, and that means more than just roadmaps and backlogs. It means taking a detailed look at our target audience of developers and partners and building a framework that makes sense for them”) is a common one, or if its in its infancy, Gerber said it was ‘probably both, depending on markets’.

“In the ANZ region, we see generic high demand for coming up with an API strategy. It is there, people understand it is needed, but everyone hasn’t yet made up their minds how to approach it. But those organisations which can manage an API strategy properly will have a competitive advantage very soon. It’s part of digital transformation and that’s the name of the game these days. Even if the term itself [digital transformation] is often misused.”

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