Today, APIs are an important part of how organizations conduct business––from internal APIs that streamline business processes to public APIs that generate revenue for organizations. The rising value of APIs raises the question: are APIs just another technology fad, shining brightly now, but soon to fade out of the spotlight?
Technically speaking, APIs have been around probably as long as software, but I think the real question is whether web APIs – practically-RESTful ones – will be the focus of attention for longer than other bright shiny objects, such as EDI, lean manufacturing, BPR, or ERP.
But perhaps a more precise question to ask is whether we – the IT community – should expect a long-lived focus of network APIs––whether the APIs use HTTP 1.1 (today) or HTTP 2 (starting), or are the asynchronous ones used very commonly in enterprises, but not usually referred to as APIs.
I firmly believe that networked APIs will be with us for a long time, even if they evolve somewhat as time goes on. A primary reason that APIs are here to stay is that they are increasingly being treated as products, not code.
The productization and consumerization of APIs
APIs have not always been productized; they used to be relegated to the technical side of the house, as plumbing to be dealt with purely by developers for very specific purposes. Increasingly, however, modern, standardized APIs have unique characteristics that enable them to be conceived as products.
One way in which this productization is taking place is through specific standards (typically HTTP and REST) which make APIs more developer-friendly, easily accessible, and broadly understood. For example, RAML (RESTful API Modeling language) focuses explicitly on making it easy and efficient for developers to model standardized, reusable APIs that other developers will be able to easily consume in the future.
The increasing productization of APIs enables them to be “consumerized” or intentionally designed with multiple consumers in mind. This consumer orientation is not only critical for long-term adoption of APIs, but also plays a role in creating a marketplace – or economy – for APIs.
The growing API economy
As a result of the productization and consumerization of APIs, there is now a thriving API economy of over 17,000 public APIs, and enterprises are not only contributing to that public economy, but also creating internal marketplaces of thousands of APIs as well. Providers are investing in building developer-friendly APIs, enabling developers to easily interact with the APIs and use them for future projects.
It is this marketplace, the corresponding consumer orientation, and the quest to win adoption, that will ensure the longevity of APIs. Why? Because efficient marketplaces work, and in this case the APIs within them are merit-based––they are the ones that survived, and thrived and grew, and they will relentlessly increase in value.
Equipped with that value, APIs can power enterprises of all kinds. Today, they are responsible for the creation of very complex, distributed ecosystems that can power every sector of industry––from enabling Buffalo Wild Wings to monitor the flow of beer to helping Sutter Health achieve lower 30-day readmission rates.
The above examples demonstrate how the API marketplace dynamic can generate a vibrant, sustainable, resilient, and expanding ecosystem of players, each of which contributes value to the network, receives value from the network, and evolves along the way.
APIs: The HTML of the enterprise
That value is very hard to walk away from. Ultimately, the productization and consumerization of APIs, along with the growing marketplace for them, serve as a testament to why APIs cannot be equated to other IT fads.
We have seen this happen before–– in the way HTML and HTTP provided a standardized way for people to consume and understand information from the Web, the most complicated, distributed system on Earth. Today APIs are playing a similar role in the enterprise.
HTML and HTTP normalized access to information on the Web and allowed it to explode and evolve resiliently through many technology changes; APIs will have a similar, perhaps even larger impact as they offer standardized, productized, consumption-oriented access to data and capabilities, which computers can tap into and derive value from the myriad of complex applications that power both today’s enterprises––and tomorrow’s.
For more about how to design, deploy, and manage productized APIs, take a look at our eBook Managing the Full API Lifecycle.