Tom St. Onge | VP, Business Development
January 21, 2013

Partnering through APIs


We are clearly far past the point of having to explain the benefits of API management and services, but there are still specific aspects where more attention is merited. In particular, partners.

The B2B angle is not a secret—there are plenty of forward-looking corporations out there aggressively implementing diverse API strategies that involve opening up their data to partners at every level. Gartner analysts estimate 75% of Fortune 1,000 corporations will have public APIs by 2015.

This shouldn’t be a surprise—there are many technology trends that benefit from consumer adoption before they make it into the boardroom. PCs were seen by many as toys before proving their business value. Some respected CIOs went on record saying the Internet offered significant advantages to the consumer but was more of a workplace distraction than a benefit.

Could there be a little bit of this happening with APIs?

Just as with consumer models, APIs offers tremendous partner benefits to any corporation with data at its core.

First, consider the context. We have gone from business models built around hardware (think IBM in its heyday) to software (Microsoft at its peak) to differentiated software (that would be Google) to data (and that’s everybody). In today’s environment, engagement with every constituency—customers, partners, employees, stakeholders—generates invaluable data, a goldmine of opportunity. What was once a by-product of routine operations has become a huge asset.

We now look at software mostly as a channel, or rather multiple channels—research indicates that at least 30 countries now have 100% ubiquitous connectivity. There’s at least more than one Internet connection for every person at any given time. Add to this everything we hear about BYOD, that most enterprises now require their IT departments to support devices that employees acquire and deploy without corporation sanction, and use interchangeably for business and personal purposes.

What is it about any of this that says it’s mostly about B2C?

Apps of every stripe, functioning on every kind of mobile device, are transforming business relationships across the board—with customers, employees and of course partners.  Some of those apps will surely be developed by the company itself, but others will be built by strategic partners to suit their own unique needs.

It’s interesting that some companies actually start here. The API culture often spreads virally—a few core advocates initially expose a private API on a few methods to one development partner, essentially as a pilot program. The benefits become apparent fairly quickly, which leads to the next development, and so on.  The focus is often on consumer benefits but this, too, evolves to other aspects, and eventually developers expect APIs in more and more areas.

Moving forward, we’re going to turn a sharper focus on the partner aspect, but here’s a taste. We worked with a consumer electronics conglomerate shortly after it acquired a company dedicated to programmable LED bulbs, and evolved the technology to be managed with an iPad/iPhone device. Apple picked up the solution in its stores, while the team picked up a starter pack.

It’s actually a great solution for custom (secondary) lighting solutions that can leverage pictures to define the color of each bulb. This is cool stuff, but the application understandably didn’t represent a high priority for the corporation. So, our engineering team stepped in to create a public API solution.  The traffic light signals are now driven by our new app.

I like this example because it clearly illustrates (pun not intended) the many uses of both an API and a light bulb. Each builds on a piece of technology that we take for granted but that offers so many benefits we never could have imagined. That’s a lesson for everyone.