API, which stands for Application Programming Interface, is just another of those abbreviations where the original expanded form is rarely used; and rightly so, since the name suggests something technical, a piece of code that cannot adequately capture one’s imagination.
The reality, however, is quite different. APIs have significantly impacted entire business models in recent years, and will continue to trigger major changes, large and small, across a broad spectrum of industries. The term “digital economy”, again very much in popular use, really refers to the transformed economical model that emerges as a consequence of APIs being introduced into the mainstream. These changes are unseen, however felt every day: from the simplest of interactions such as online shopping, booking a hotel or airline tickets, googling for information or even hailing an Uber cab.
We all know the success stories: the e-commerce giants that have rewritten the rulebooks on how goods and services can be distributed and consumed; the competition, which stealthily emerged from completely unforeseen quarters, from other industries even, toppling the established leaders in just a few painful years. Blockbuster and Polaroid are some who never saw the onset of this digital threat and suffered the consequences, while the “Googles” and “Facebooks” of the world built incredibly large communities of fans and amassed fortunes by exposing what others had created.
The age of the Platform has arrived. Businesses must see themselves as platforms upon which others can build. A web of interrelated services is woven: this is the crux of a digital strategy.
The changes to commercial processes as a result of technology, and Internet related advances in particular, have been compared in terms of magnitude to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. This book aims to help you to enter into this world of opportunity – and, if you’ve already stepped inside, to provide some checkpoints to keep you aligned.
We aim to help you to understand what APIs really are, what they are expected to do and, most importantly, help you to determine the parameters of success that can be expected from their use.
This book speaks to technical agents of change, and to business agents of change: people who see the need to recast, at least to an extent, the way their organization interacts with its employees, customers or providers. If we are going to ensure the successful use of APIs, it’s important that both kinds of agents are spoken to in the same language. Required, above all, is a close, intimate collaboration between both sides of the divide.
Building APIs is not easy. Choosing which APIs are to be built is perhaps the hardest part, and one that is often overlooked in the rush for technical change.
This book is written to save months – if not years – of valuable effort in designing, publishing and putting out APIs that are then hardly used and fall far short of the miraculous results expected of them in steering a company into the digital age.
APIs, like all technical assets, are only as good as the outcomes they produce – and who adopts them, when and why, will determine their success. Simply creating an API, even if it is perfectly constructed in accordance with best practices and stringently overseen, can result in what is called a web service: a piece of code that is exposed by the web, without its prior purpose being established. This, for practical purposes, may be seen as the difference between an arbitrary collection of web services and a carefully constructed set of APIs that propel a company along new, exciting and usually highly beneficial customer journeys.
Think of this book as a toolkit that will allow you to practice in your own sandboxes, in your backyard. Build castles in the sand or in the air, models and pilots of what could be.
Have fun. You are only ever bounded by your own imagination and spirit - there are no other limitations in cyberspace and the digital economy.
Chapter 01 - Introduction
1.1 Who is this book for?
We all know what happens when we see parts of a whole, especially when the whole is as big as new economic order which is very difficult for anyone to fathom. This book is about seeing the different dimensions and getting a bigger picture of the parts that make up this fascinating universe of opportunities that is opening up in front of your eyes. We know by now that there is virtually no industry, no business – small or big, anywhere in the world – that is immune or isolated from the threat and opportunity of the digital invasion, of which the API is the first touchpoint.