APIs have become one of the hot topics on the corporate IT agenda in recent months – both in terms of individual companies launching new APIs such as Jawbone [http://thenextweb.com/dd/2013/09/19/jawbone-opens-up-health-and-activity-tracking-wristband-api-to-developers

Despite this attention however, it often hard to reconcile what is being written vs. what APIs actually deliver to the business. In other words – who is using APIs and what are they using them for? To help answer this, 3Scale, one of the leading API Management solutions provider, has developed the Top Five Reasons a Business Needs APIs:

  1. Mobile enablement: As mobile applications have evolved, they now need to be available in multiple versions for multiple operating systems and devices—Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or even next-generation non-mobile devices such as Smart TVs. This places enormous strain on the development and maintenance process in a way which affects not only the various User Interface components (the apps themselves) but also how data reaches the applications which running and how data / transactions are sent back. Securing this “data channel” and keeping it uniform has become one of the most important uses of APIs and companies are increasingly designing APIs firsts for consistent data experiences and layer application builds on top to provide the specifics for each audience.
  2. Customer and Partner Ecosystem Growth (becoming a platform): a key common challenge for organizations is to serve special needs that vary on a customer-by-customer basis – ideally these should be delivered in such a way that customers can help themselves in setting up for special needs. In addition it’s often the case that partner organizations can provide valuable complimentary services to enhance an offering. However in both of these cases, customers need the means to integrate software systems with the company they are doing business with. It is not surprising then that one the most important uses of APIs is to provide the foundation for “becoming a platform” – in other words they providing exactly integration points for customers, suppliers, distributors, integrators. Companies such as Evernote [https://evernote.com
  3. Accelerating Reach for Transactions and Content: a third common use case of APIs is as an accelerator for content distribution and enabling transactions from a wide variety of sources. A special form of partner ecosystem, for media and content APIs this means providing API access to content which partners, news readers, aggregators and mashup tools can automatically access and propel to new audiences. For eCommerce and increasingly Bricks and Mortar retailers, APIs can enable purchase transactions via a much wider set of interfaces than a standard website would. An example aggregator in the media case for example is Flipboard that pulls in content via API from a wide variety of sources: having an accessible API is table stakes to being accessible to the Flipboard audience. On the eCommerce side, companies such as Walgreens now have APIs that enable prescription filling and submission of photos for printing – enabling third party developers to embed such features wherever and whenever convenient for the user.
  4. Powering New Business Models: pure play API companies such as Twilio [http://www.twilio.comSendgrid [http://sendgrid.com
  5. Driving Internal Innovation: last but not least, large companies continuously need to innovate – creating new internal and customer facing systems. APIs provide the key to providing the agility needed to do this – Jeff Bezos famously enforced all software in the company to interact only via APIs from 2004 onwards [http://apievangelist.com/2012/01/12/the-secret-to-amazons-success-internal-apis

In many cases, companies are pursuing more than one of these objectives at the same time and using APIs in multiple areas of their businesses. APIs provide the underlying glue to make these new strategies possible and are the underpinnings for many of the key cloud, social and mobile initiatives companies are currently engaged in as they retool to take advantage of new software layers to power their businesses.

While the term “API” is not often in the same sentence as “becoming a platform”, “mobile strategy” or “increasing product reach”, APIs in fact provide the critical glue for all of these initiatives – and using APIs increasingly needs to be at the centre of corporate software strategy.

For more information visit www.3scale.net