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Consumer technology moves fast. What’s shiny and new one day can quickly become a relic of the past when the next innovation or iteration comes along. Unfortunately, enterprises don’t have the luxury of simply plugging and unplugging technology into their digital ecosystem the way we as consumers unplugged our Sony Walkmans in favor of iPods and iPhones. This is especially true as we look to artificial intelligence (AI). AI has the potential to produce game-changing business outcomes based on data stored in legacy systems—if enterprises can figure out how to make it work.

When AI works in an enterprise, it goes beyond generating insights that sit in isolation to actually automating actions based on those insights. For example, one insurance company I spoke with is using AI to discern which of its customers are most likely to renew their premiums, and then automatically contact them by connecting AI to SMS. The firm saw a 60% engagement rate and 30% renewal rate from that text message bot campaign alone.

AI is just a ‘brain in a jar’ without APIs

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What many technology leaders don’t realize is that an AI system is only as good as the APIs that support it. For all the excitement around the potential of AI, getting AI to act in a real-world business context remains a challenge. I call this the “brain in a jar” problem.

AI is similar to a brain that is confined in a jar. The human brain is incredibly intelligent — it can process 400 billion bits of information a second. However, without a nervous system attached to automate processes or carry out commands, the brain and all of its insights are rendered more or less useless.

The same is true of AI. Unless AI has a nervous system in place that allows for real-time connectivity across internal and external applications, data sources, and devices, the insights it generates only apply within the context of its jar. It’s equally imperative for that nervous system to include the organization’s legacy systems of record since it is largely those systems that such AI will depend on for its insights. Without the right connectivity fabric in place to turn those insights into action, its impact is limited to spitting out recommendations that don’t make sense in the real world. 

APIs are the building blocks for AI

Connecting technology built in different decades is no easy feat. According to MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark Report legacy infrastructure and systems are the most frequently reported challenge to digital transformation, and 59% of IT leaders say their legacy infrastructure makes it hard to introduce new technologies like artificial intelligence, chat APIs, and the internet of things (IoT). Yet, these emerging technologies are set to disrupt every industry in the same way mobile, SaaS, and the cloud did over the past 10 years. Organizations cannot afford to be left behind.

For organizations to effectively compete in ever-evolving business landscapes, they must outfit both new and legacy systems with APIs that ensure the adaptability of their digital platforms for decades to come. With these API-based building blocks in place, disparate legacy systems and new-age technologies can easily plug in and out of application networks as fads like AI come and go. By creating a thoughtful API strategy, organizations can unlock extraordinary value from existing systems while simultaneously leveraging emerging technology like AI—all while remaining secure. 

AI and bots: Get started with a thoughtful API strategy

With more than 21,000 public APIs on the web underpinning the apps we use every day, the new economy these APIs are driving is changing the way companies are built. Thirty-six percent of today’s technology leaders generated more than a quarter of their organizations’ revenue as a direct result of APIs. Think of McDonald’s delivering food directly to doorsteps via Uber Eats, or HSBC providing a single financial dashboard for customers regardless of where they bank—all possible because of APIs.

Download my latest eBook, 5 ways AI, IoT, and security are shaping the API economy, to learn how your organization can take full advantage of emerging technology like AI and IoT without compromising on security.