Are API Service Providers Relevant?

"Are API service providers relevant? Will they remain relevant?"

Thats the question asked by Ben Kepes at this years Defrag Conference, while moderating a panel with Apigee's Sam Ramji and Mashery's Neil Mansilla.

It was a bold question to ask, perhaps, in front of an audience comprised of people from 3Scale, Apigee, Mashery and Alcatel Lucent -- all API service providers. And Sam's response was to dismiss Ben's question was “stupid”, steering the conversation elsewhere.

Sam seemed to interpret Ben’s question as an affront -- not just to Apigee but arguably to all the API providers in the room. But in light of Sam's own arguments about the importance of thinking about apps as intermediaries, I thought Ben's question was particularly interesting. After all, many of these API services providers do just that -- act as intermediaries.

On the surface Ben’s question may have seemed to be picking a fight with Sam, but I think he meant it, and was seriously asking it of the industry, and I feel it is an important question. I personally think API service providers have a role to play, and can stay relevant if...if they do not impose themselves as intermediaries, but I would love to hear what others think.

I believe doing business in the API space, centers around providing clear value to your customers, without getting in their way. In the words of Jeff Lawson of Twilio, "Get out of the way of the Doers!". This philosophy applies to API service providers as well.

To stay relevant, the API service providers have to practice what they preach to their customers; be service oriented, decouple and allow their customers to be doers via a self-service, clearly priced, secure platform while providing added value in the form of premium services. Without this practice, API services providers just reflect the old way of building and selling software, not the new API driven world.

Beyond the 3Scale, Apigee and Mashery API service providers of the world, we also need to acknowledge there is a continued need for open-source tools and platforms that can deliver the services that businesses need for their APIs. These tools allow for a vibrant ecosystem of service providers to support these tools and platforms just like with other open-source software communities. Maybe the existing API service providers can even contribute to these projects and champion the cause?

I guess my point is, that things change quickly, you have to have to be agile, flexible and deliver clear value to stay relevant. This applies to any business, API service providers are not exempt. In today's fast paced, technology driven business climate, I don't think any business leader can dismiss this question, and I think everyone should ask it can I remain relevant? Great question Ben!