clocks interlocking

How APIs Drive New Digital Business

March 2016

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Aren’t we tired of talking about this so-called drive towards ‘digital disruption’ yet? It appears not, but there might still a few fresh themes and avenues to explore. Let’s remember, 100 years ago (during the second industrial revolution), firms still had a Chief Electricity Officer (CEO) to handle this new thing called electricity.

If we accept that we’ve just been through the third industrial revolution (the PC era) and the disruption that mobile-first has brought to technology, the fourth industrial revolution (the digital global business era) has yet to be fully played out.

This month’s ‘I ♥ APIs’ event in the city of London threw up some new angles and notions in relation to the way software APIs connect to new value chains being created in the new digital economy. Staged under the patronage of Apigee, a provider of API technology and services for enterprises and developers, this gathering was intended to explain how and where APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces to use the full term) sit in the new world of business and the digital business revolution.

What is an API, actually?

As we have explained before on Forbes, APIs exist to establish a vital communications bond between different software program elements and data streams. APIs define the route for a programmer to code a program (or program component) that will be capable of requesting services from an operating system (OS) or other application.

So looking at the above graphic, the process here from left to right is as follows:

• a user grabs a device,
• the device powers up and delivers an application (app)
• the application is developed by a developer
• an API connects that application to other information services, data flows, tasks/calculations, components of information or connected processes i.e. stuff that we want to do when online
• the API team builds and facilitates the connectivity point to the API
• the backend serves the API with its value, its data, its cloud services, its database or whatever else is stored in the datacenter

How to manage an API

If we know what APIs do, broadly – and we know where APIs fit in, quite specifically – then do they just exist ‘out there’ or do we need to look after them in some way? This is the technology proposition that underpins Apigee itself i.e. a platform to track, manage and understand the life of the API and its existence in the world. The Apigee Cloud manages ‘hundreds of billions’ of API call traffic records every year.

According to the Apigee State of APIs report 2016, based on 2014 to 2015 traffic we know that, “The increased pace of digital transformation in enterprises is evidenced by a large increase in API traffic, which has grown 2.8 times year-over-year. Media, retail and information services industries account for 73% of API traffic. Annual peaks are observed in API traffic around Thanksgiving, when retailers experience significant spikes in traffic volume.”

In terms of Apigee product set we find ‘Edge’, the firm’s core product for API management, analytics and operations automation. Then comes ‘Insights’, a means of bringing customer engagement intelligence to APIs… this is the kind of thing where customer and behavioral information are combined to try and predict the next best actions inside the IT system.

APIs can attract ‘bad bots’

Onwards we find Apigee ‘Sense’ and this is the security element. APIs are already huge remember? These are the application connection elements that are driving much of the way the Internet works so they are very attractive to firms who want to build online services, Unfortunately this also means that APIs are very attractive to malicious hackers.

According to the firm, “Apigee Sense uses sophisticated machine learning algorithms to continuously analyze billions of API calls, identify adaptive threats and take action against bad ‘bots’, which is 20-25% of all internet traffic.”

The team is also developing a product called ‘Link’ – an API-related enterprise IoT product in early days, currently at pilot stage. Onward from here, Apigee says that the logical place to develop APIs is specific to vertical industry and the initial focus has been on healthcare and the telco business.

The future of the API

Apigee’s survey suggests that as many as two thirds of companies today may have API initiatives in place. This arguably somewhat over-generous ‘well they would say that kind of thing wouldn’t they?’ comment notwithstanding, there is clearly a big drive for this element of software to play a bigger part in the way we build the interconnected technologies that we all use.

In the (soon to come) later years of the fourth industrial revolution (i.e. from tomorrow onwards) we will start to see massive advances in nanotech, IoT, 3D printing, robotics, biotechnology, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, energy storage and more.

If we accept that we have the chance to connect billions of people to these technologies, then APIs could be central to this. But it won’t be easy and organizations will need to be able to adapt to these new progressions and at the same time, government will need to be able to regulate the whole process.

Apigee suggests that to accelerate digital initiatives without disrupting their back-ends, companies are adding business logic at the API tier. Further, IT functions are even looking at locating ‘persistent’ data (core data that changes infrequently and is rarely modified) at the API tier. No, it’s just as easy as just shunting all your IT forward into APIs, but the wider trend tells a tale.

Looking for the big picture, APIs are no more of IT panacea that say cloud computing, microservices or the next big thing that you’ll hear about next week. There are, however, a core element of the new IT firmament, so it’s worth knowing they exist.

Even if you don’t actually go all the way and ♥ APIs, it is occasionally worth wearing the T-shirt.

 

This article was written by Adrian Bridgwater from Forbes. This reprint is supplied by BNY Mellon under license from NewsCred, Inc.  

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