The Edison light globe was a revolution in technology, and was the ‘killer-app’ for starting wide-spread use of electricity at the turn of the 20th Century. Today, while we have the bayonet type of socket adapter or ‘interface,’ we still have the original screw type interface that Edison invented. What may be a lesser known and scary fact is that the original deployment of electricity itself didn’t rely on the ubiquitous electric power point that we all know today, but in fact, relied on the same light globe socket, installed into the ceiling.
Incredulous to us today, apart from the light globe, irons and other household tools were all initially plugged into the one socket, in the ceiling, with electricity cables snaking outwards from a central socket, hydra-like.
The problem with this very dangerous situation was overload and heat. Houses were burnt down and many lives lost, even if the Edison globe was vastly safer than the notorious arc light that was used previously. So new safer and more robust ‘interface’ solutions evolved.
Now, in the third decade of the 21st Century, we are finally realizing innovations that help move us away from +100-year-old standards. Electric Vehicles to replace the internal combustion engine, and LED’s to replace the Edison globe. And it is the same with IT, which is undergoing a standardization revolution. A revolution related to digital interfaces that enable new experiences and unlock value from data that is bound up in multitudes of extant enterprise systems.
Why is enterprise IT slow, and how can APIs help?
Unlike electricity standards which mostly adhere to a common set of interface protocols (120V/220-240V) and socket types (types A-L), the IT landscape used by many enterprises to perform business functions is a complex mix of enterprise, bespoke and cloud software and hardware that have a multitude of interface protocols and socket types.
While the web has mostly become standardized and accessible, enterprise value chains are realized by sets of data (i.e.: payloads, rules, policies), and functions (i.e.: transformations, events, thresholds). Business meaning and value are stored in these but are spread amongst systems of various vintages, locations, and unfortunately different interfaces and disconnected user experiences.
Because wholesale replacement of IT systems to a common modern standard is expensive, risky and disrupts business, early attempts to solve this situation relied on adding a highly technical integration layer. This was variously called enterprise application integration (EAI), enterprise data integration (EDI), or enterprise service bus (ESB), and was added to existing systems to help them communicate. These approaches centralized integration to one application, just like the original single electricity socket.
What this did was add more complexity and tardiness to the IT development lifecycle. It also added cost because of the complexity of the protocols (SOAP) and sockets (XML). It also added business risk because enterprise systems were less visible and less understandable than before.
Taking a lesson from electricity and the internet, technology interfaces that observe simpler standardized protocols and sockets will enable enterprises to deliver incremental change and value, deliver transformation quicker and with less risk, and with less worry that the protocols and sockets will need to be changed in the future.
What are MuleSoft APIs and why are they important?
An API is an application programming interface. What does that mean and why is it important?
In MuleSoft terms, an API is a composable unit of meaning and value. This composable unit enables the technical realization of business value chains that deliver experiences, processes, or data to where they are needed: in the enterprise, to your customers, partners, and suppliers. Because business value chains these days all either involve or are composed of digital (IT) assets, just like the Edison globe, it becomes important to standardize to reduce risk and increase speed.
Value chains that need APIs cross many industries:
- Ore extraction value chains where driverless trains report their vehicle status in real-time via APIs as they take the extract for shipping;
- Medical events from a monitor that report the event to hospital response staff;
- Child harm events that need to alert authorities spanning multiple agencies;
- Payment fraud that automatically block fraudulent transactions and initiate customer alerts and bank and police investigation; and
- Insurance claim events that can use a smartphone to photograph and lodge claims on the spot.
MuleSoft APIs not only observe simple standardized protocols (HTTP) and sockets (RAML ), but also mask underlying system complexity, allowing business representatives to once again participate and control business meaning and value without dealing with unreadable code.
The API ecosystem strategy
MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform and Catalyst methodology enables businesses to create and nurture value chains and create new, valuable digital experiences and processes that integrate the physical and virtual. We enable businesses to quickly connect multitudes of existing enterprise systems through standard protocols and sockets.
But without a vision for the future, this becomes just another tech-driven solution, which is why a strategy for value realization is key. We call this the API ecosystem strategy.
Stage one of an API ecosystem strategy starts with an initial insight into the broad community of participants that need access to meaning and value. This can be your customers, partner, and suppliers, but also include employees, shareholders and regulators. Each of these community participants has their own particular need for meaning and value.
Then, using this information and the business priorities, a vision and roadmap specific to your objectives is established, articulating what capabilities (experiences, processes and data) need to be unlocked in what sequence to realize value quickly within the enterprise. This is then delivered in incremental tranches guided by leadership prioritization. Conflicts with existing delivery programs are assessed and overlaps resolved.
Part of this vision is that an API ecosystem emerges from incremental delivery of value. As the various API’s are established to meet instant business demand, a network of their applications emerges that enables future applications to stand on the existing API’s ‘shoulders.’
Called in IT jargon ’reuse’ it is more simply stated as ROI. Make it once, use many. The Center for Enablement (C4E), MuleSoft’s delivery methodology makes this happen easily and with repeatability.
Stage two of the strategy takes stock of the situation and is the real rocket-launch power of APIs. Once a critical mass of APIs emerges from initial efforts, the network of APIs reaches the stage of maturity where meaning and value are unlocked. The ‘art of the possible,’ of how to use these new digital assets to compose and deliver to future business objectives, actually becomes not only possible but probable.
New experiences and business models can emerge, the technicalities of mergers and acquisition cease to become risky and disruptive affairs, legacy system migrations are streamlined, outages and continuity handled in a less risky and disruptive manner. And from that point on, the capability to transform the enterprise is no longer throttled by IT complexity or cost, as has been the case historically.
MuleSoft excels in powering the future of your enterprise transformation through our Anypoint Platform, Center for Enablement, and strategic advisory services to work with you to achieve this step change, to introduce APIs into your organization to reduce cost, increase speed and above all make technology less complex, so the business vision can be met equally at the table by technology enablement. We welcome you to start the conversation with us today.