Can You Show Me The ROI On All Of This API Stuff Before We Commit
14 Sep 2014
I am working on a white paper for a big enterprise provider who is looking to deliver solutions in the API space. At their request I’ve gone through six industries and looked for companies who have over 5k employees and are doing interesting things with APIs--a request that produced some great research for the white paper, as well as for stories here on API Evangelist.
It can be hard to find large enterprise organizations who are doing full blown "API", because honestly many of them just do not get it yet. Sure I can find many that are doing web services, and dabbling with APIs, but it can be downright difficult to find examples of companies that I would showcase as a healthy API patterns.
Doing this research I was looking more for examples of anything “API” happening, any bare-bones, positive signals that could be emulated, and try and demonstrate what huge opportunities there are in these industries, for anyone who could do it right. I got my first draft ready, and submitted for review, and jumped on a call to discuss.
Everything looked great in the paper, except senior leadership said there was a lack of detail demonstrating how developers were building applications on these enterprise public APIs, They would need more hard examples of how these large company APIs were being used, how this benefited the API provider, and some hard numbers of usage, revenue, showing how business models, products and services were being developed.
After smiling, I told them I could guarantee that most of these providers themselves don't have that detail, and are still working to figure this out. Your request is exactly why we do APIs, and begin to establish an external R&D lab for providing answers, in realtime. Even if some of the more mature providers have this information, I can guarantee they aren't going to share it publicly. Maybe if they were a startup, this type of sharing might be in their DNA, but not the enterprise, sorry.
These types of questions are what I got from government agencies (and still get) two years ago after President Obama mandated that all federal agencies go machine readable by default. They wanted to see the ROI from other agencies doing APIs, before they'd do it too. I wish I had all the answers to make risk averse government agencies, institutions, and enterprise feel warm and fuzzy about APIs, but just like it has taken all of us over two years to get any results in the federal government, and four years for me in the wider API space. It is going to take a lot of hard work before you will see those numbers, and if you require these before you get your feet wet, I can guarantee the numbers will be generated by your competitors before you do.
You have to be a little adventurous, agile, and nimble to operate in this realm. If you aren’t, I recommend starting with some of the low hanging, safer fruit in your company, and just get started, because then you can hopefully learn from the API process. Once you begin your journey you start to see cultural benefits of an API-centric focus—otherwise you can sit back and watch a new wave of startups and your existing competition do it for you.