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The Importance of APIs

Nov 11, 2015 •

A post speaking to the importance of APIs on a blog dedicated to APIs might come
across as a little biased. And it is. However, if you are not already bought
in to the idea that you must have an API to succeed today, this post will
hopefully help you over the tipping point.

As discussed in What do you mean API?, when talking
about APIs we are thinking in terms of web-style APIs (i.e. REST over
HTTP) and we’re thinking of APIs in terms of an interface to a service (public
or private, big or small).

The introduction of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model has enabled a whole
new approach to structuring applications and businesses. Each SaaS offering
provides the opportunity to strategically outsource some capability, from CRM to
Newsletters to Object Storage. SaaS offerings continue to be consumed in more
and more ways via differing interfaces. Web and mobile interfaces are designed
for human consumption whereas APIs are the key to enabling programmatic
consumption.

Increasingly, the differentiator of these SaaS businesses isn’t necessarily the
individual features they provide, but rather, their ease of integration with an
ecosystem of partners and a community of content. Thus, the value of APIs is
shifting to their ability to enable and facilitate an ecosystem versus the
direct value provided to paying customers.

Take as an example, the messaging service Slack. It is a
great tool for communication in itself, but it also has a robust set of easy to
use APIs. The APIs enable a numerous integrations, ranging from Git activity
notifications, DevOps pipeline status through to sharing files via
Box. So, as you investigate your next SaaS service
subscription, don’t be surprised when you see Slack on the list of
integrations.

Ecosystems do not appear overnight. The service provider must prove to
potential partners that there is added value derived from a direct integration.
These integration conversations can be boostrapped by the service provider
participating (through API integration) in other healthy ecosystems. A simple
rule of thumb:

Integrate with complimentary
services that have many eye-balls on them. Overtime your service will be the one
with the eye-balls on.

See this
post from
Groove, a help desk service, and how they benefited
from integrating with Slack in the early development of their ecosystem.

An amazing thing about these API-based ecosystems is the fact that they enable
effective web-based collaboration across companies. APIs enable third-party
integrations, easily offer complimentary services, and ultimately allow to build
a team that succeeds together (e.g, as more people sign-up for Slack, more
people are driven to use Box). Companies can leverage each others’ funnels and more
accurately target customers in a way that is mutually beneficial. The customer
is introduced to services they are missing, which work with the services they
already have. The company benefits because they attract more customers with a gap
in their service portfolio.

If you want your service to be wildly successful, you must
provide APIs, not solely for your customer’s benefit, but for the benefit of your
ecosystem.


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