Lou Powell on integration in the enterprise: APIs Unplugged

For this installment of APIs Unplugged, Matt McLarty and Mike Amundsen sat down with ProKarma’s Lou Powell to talk about successful API integration efforts in the enterprise and his API IQ quadrant. Currently, a partner at ProKarma, an “experience engineering” company, Powell works closely with businesses to create pioneering experiences and accelerate outcomes, unlocking greater value and market leadership. He worked in advertising and digital marketing before launching his own business, Vanick Digital, which he led for 19 years before acquisition by ProKarma. He is also actively involved on the Forbes Technology Council. Lou is a lifelong student of technology pattern adoption and the practices of tech natives, and he brings a design-thinking approach to technology in all of his work. 

You can listen to the episode here:

Core transformation principles for a dynamic enterprise

We kicked off our conversation with Lou by asking him if he’s seen a consistent core set of transformation principles that have stood the test of time.

“So over the last 25 or so years, we’ve seen companies succeed and we’ve seen companies struggle to succeed. And if I were to look at it from a principles perspective, I think there are a few that I would say, ‘These are the principles that you’ve gotta get right to be successful.'” 

— Lou Powell

Lou called out “understanding that failure doesn’t have a negative stigma,” start with a solid plan and make adjustments along the way, “focusing on the crossroads or your customer’s highest value and your company’s derived value,” and “adopting modern technology patterns.” Powell then explained that, in his view, the true goal of digital transformation and modern technology is to become a more dynamic organization. 

Grappling with change

Matt asked Lou to identify the things that companies often find challenging when they set out on this journey to being a dynamic enterprise:

“I would say the number one thing that they grapple with is federation.”

— Lou Powell

This led into a discussion about scaling, team design, onboarding, standards, and — over all — design thinking. Powell also invoked marketing giant Ogilvy’s approach of “start with the customer” as a key element in successful dynamic companies and Matt tied that to Clayton Christensen’s principles, too.

“There’s this fundamental idea that APIs are interfaces to implementations. And this is the same stuff that’s been going on since the first complex applications were written 50, 60 years ago. So, I mean, we love to think that we’re being wonderfully innovative but we’re not. We’ve actually forgotten so much of what was figured out years and years ago.”

— Lou Powell

Flexible governance for a learning organization

Mike brought up the idea of learning organizations and how that sounded similar to Powell’s dynamic enterprise. This led to a thread on the importance of flexible governance based on shared processes and consistent metrics. Matt pointed out that the word “governance” is sometimes thought of as a negative word and Lou brought up the idea of “just enough” and “just-in-time” governance.

This led to talk of guidelines, worksheets, templates, and other tools that make governance more consistent while maintaining the ability Powell pointed out earlier.

Knowing your API IQ

Following up on the governance theme, Matt and Lou started to talk about Powell’s “API IQ” blog post from a while back. In that article, he explained his API Interface Quadrant and how to use it to tune your API governance to fit the organization’s needs.

 

Lou explained that two key elements in designing your API governance approach are 1) the number of API consumers and, 2) the familiarity and proximity of those users. For example, a small number of users inside a company who work closely together can get by with a “team” approach to governance. But lots of remote, third-party consumers may require you to take a much more “product-oriented” approach to API integration and management. “This was born out of conversations that we have with our customers all the time,” Lou said. 

The group wrapped up with discussions on how companies can best find their fit within the quadrant and how, over time, they can move from the small “team” approach to the “domain” or “product” approach when it is appropriate.

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