Explaining APIs To Your Senior Leadership

One question I get pretty frequently from my readers, is how should they explain APIs to senior leaders, specifically the executives who aren't tech savvy. In my opinion, these conversations can be some of the most important ones for not just a specific company, but potentially an entire industry—so I wanted to provide some material you can use in your own conversations.

First APIs are just like websites, but instead of being for humans they are meant for other desktop, web, server, and mobile applications. When you go to twitter.com you get an HTML listing of tweets, and when you go to api.twitter.com you get back JSON which is meant for other application to read, where the HTML is meant to make visible for the human API--that is it, that is the difference.

I use Twitter in this example, but APIs can be used to deliver any data, content, or even programmatic resource like say an image resize or convert a Word document to a PDF file. APIs act just like web or mobile applications, and let you read, update, add, or delete any of these resources that have been made available via an API.

When having this conversation, make sure and remind your leadership of the years between 1995 and 2000, when we were trying to convince our leadership that we should have websites. Remember all that selling we had to do to convince leadership that our company should have a website? Is there any question about whether or not your company should have a website in 2014? NO! This is the same thing that is going on with APIs between 2010 and 2015, and by 2015 to 2020, if your company doesn't have an API you will be at a serioius disadvantage.

To get started, any data or content that you have on your website should be available via an API. This helps you easily make things like company directory, product and service listings, and a blog accessible to be on any mobile application, website, or any server or desktop application. APIs are not about the next crazy software trend, it uses the same technology as delivering your website, but instead of launching a single site, your valuable resources are now instantly available for integration with any website and mobile application.

I have about ten separate examples like this to help you have conversation with your leadership about APIs. My goal is to try and keep them short, concise and something you can easily use to help convince your company that an API centric approach is right for your business. If you have specific scenarios you’d like to address, feel free to ping me and let me know.