My API Platform or Yours?

You hear the phrase API platform a lot from vendors across the API space. It is just one of many phrases in the world of APIs that is more a funhouse of mirrors than actually a meaningful set of words we depend upon. Everyone wants to be a platform. At first glance, an API platform is an API-first way for delivering and maintaining the applications a company, organization, institution, or government agency needs to conduct business daily. However, due to the way venture capital fueled startups work today, an API platform has become a way of transferring value from operations by building on “their” platforms, rather than building and strengthening “your” platform as an enterprise organization.

When someone is using the phrase API platform, make sure you ask them whose platform they are referring to-—yours or theirs. The world of APIs is all about a dance between API producers and API consumers, where the platform conversation is fairly straightforward—the challenge emerges when you have investment fueled startups selling API warez which begin to introduce the funhouse mirror into the conversation. Whose API platform are we building? Whose API platform is producing the most value? Who is producing, extracting, or benefitting from digital resources via a platform? This is a tricky game when you deal at scale in the API economy, and one that is continuing to spread exponentially across enterprise organizations.

Every enterprise should be investing, developing, and strengthening their platform using APIs. Enterprise platform teams should be stitching together many different infrastructure components together using APIs to deliver the APIs and applications they need to operate. When I say API platform, I am ALWAYS speaking of the enterprise organizations platform—I am rarely talking about the API service providers platform, unless I specifically say the business name + API platform. If you work at an enterprise organization, ask each of your API vendors whether they are building on their API Platform or yours. Now watch them squirm, and take note of the ones who have a nuanced answer.

There are plenty of technology platforms that reach platform status within the enterprise ecosystem. Solutions like GitHub, Jira, Google, and others, but these are more cornerstones of the enterprise platform, and companies do not inherently work on Github’s, Atlassian’s, and Google’s platform. Sure many I would say have sold their soul to these platforms and likely allow more value to be extracted than produce and retained. In the world of APIs it is always about investing in, developing, and strengthening the enterprise platform, and some tech companies rise up to a cornerstone status in this reality, but sadly every tech company wants and sees themselves as a platform, and are happy to call themselves an API platform, and these are the ones you should be wary of.

I am extremely focused on the success and scale of enterprise API platforms right now. Tech API platforms interest me much less. What really gets me thinking is how we reach heightened states of API platforms that straddle multiple private or public enterprises, or entire industries. What keeps me interested in the potential of distributed and federated API platforms at scale when there is the right balance of API policies in place. I feel pretty strongly that this is the only way we will be rising above much of the traditional bullshittery that occurs across industries, startups, and investment circles. Sadly, due to the short-sightedness, lack of imagination, creativity, skills, and an interest in short-term gains, this vision will be much more difficult to achieve. It isn’t impossible, but the vacuum that exists right now around API Platform conversations do more to slow things down, than they ever do living up to the promise of APIs.