Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
February 07, 2013

Enable Your Customers’ Success with APIs


I recently discussed what data/content enterprises can open up to the public through APIs.  This week, I want to discuss the customer and/or partner API tier.  This tier covers data that is too important to the enterprise to be made public, but is very useful to its customers and/or partners. 

Many companies have data that falls into this tier.  Whether it is a large distributor with data on deliveries, orders, invoices, etc. or a financial services company with banking information, companies have sensitive data that should only be available externally for customers.

An API under proper management is a perfect solution for this level of data.   With an API management layer in place, a company can control exactly who has access to its data.  It can easily grant access to relevant data to its customers.

But why would an enterprise want to expose data to its customers through an API? Because an API can greatly improve the enterprise’s relationship with its customers.  Cisco is a great example of an enterprise that created an API to increase its customers/partners satisfaction. 

Cisco started its API program for its partners when it found that partners were not using an email update service it was trying to get adoption for.  Partners wanted the information in those updates, but did not want the format to be dictated to them – they had existing processes that this data needed to fit into and wanted choices for how they could repurpose this data.

So Cisco created an API for and with its partners.  Cisco listened to its partners about requirements in terms of the data they desired, the format, the documentation, etc.  In the end, Cisco ended up with a product that its partners use.  Not only that, but it has also made partners more successful and increased the “stickiness” of Cisco with its partners without investing a lot of money into infrastructure and new processes.  As Martha van Berkel, Senior Manager of Cisco’s Smart Web Technology Group put it, “instead of having to invest millions of dollars and go through months of trying to instill larger B2B solutions, APIs allow you to get…stickiness for a lot lower investment.”

A customer/partner API tier allows large companies to provide its most important audience with data that is most relevant to it in an easily consumable format.  Exposing the right data to customers in this way will increase their dependence because they are likely to embed the API into their processes.  It also makes it easier for customers to conduct their business, making them more successful.  If done right, a customer/partner API tier provides great benefits to both the enterprise and its customers.  By rolling out both a customer tier and an open tier, an enterprise will cover most of its intended audience.  Most, but not all – check back next week to see how enterprises should engage its remaining audience, its own employees, through an API. 

For the full story of how Cisco started its API program, check out the video of their presentation at the Business of APIs conference this past fall.