What Can The Enterprise Learn From The Open API Space?

I’ve been studying the API space exclusively for the last four years, and have worked hard to try and understand the space by studying the history of APIs, and as a result I can confidently say we are smack dab in the middle of what I consider to be an enterprise phase.

In 2013 and 2014 I’ve seen the enterprise across multiple business sectors turn their attention to this curiosity called the web API. So why is the enterprise so interested in APIs? Many technologists from the enterprise claim that it is no difference than their own earlier SOA efforts, but there has to be more under the hood, that is attracting the enterprise, beyond just a shiny new label, API—so what are they?

  • Simplicity - Keep things small, modular and intuitive
  • Access - You should be widening access to your resources, not ever limiting
  • Openness - While not everything should be 100% open, be as open as possible
  • Transparency - Provide insight into operations and your roadmap allowing consumers to operate in alignment
  • Communication - Two way communication between you and your consumers
  • Privacy - Protect the privacy of your consumers
  • Ownership - Be open to alternative licensing and ownership of content and data that is favorable to consumers
  • Legal - Be as open as you can be with copyright, patents and trademark in API initiatives
  • Terms - Establish terms of use that favor your business, but also the interests of consumers
  • Revenue - Acknowledge the monetization needs of your consumers
  • Quantify - Define and understand how digital resources are being consumed

If you're looking at the web API phenomenon purely through a technical lens, as many SOA practitioners do, you will not even see most of these characteristics—they are irrelevant to your tech driven goals. In my opinion this humanization of a company’s digital resources, which historically have been locked up, defined and controlled by IT gatekeepers, is the single most important lesson for the enterprise when it comes to web APIs.

In 2014, as you are planning your API strategy, don't make the mistake in seeing APIs as purely a tool in the SOA toolbox, as they were over 10 years ago. Long ago web APIs jumped out of the enterprise petri dish, experienced the oxygen available within the public sphere and developed some life giving characteristics that will be critical to the enterprise surviving and thriving in the coming years.

I will be talking at IBM Impact in Las Vegas next week on this topic.