Mobile technologies are opening up virtually limitless opportunities for organizations to create, iterate and manage new applications that engage users in nearly every aspect of their lives. From house hunting and fitness monitoring to managing business projects and communicating with colleagues, broadening access to application programming interfaces (APIs) has created an economy that is exploding with possibilities for new business development.
Many established organizations have been benefitting from the API economy for years, and the number of private and public APIs has been growing exponentially. In fact, the number of open APIs is projected to reach 30,000 by 2016, which has the potential to level the playing field and allow organizations of all sizes to compete in new ways.
While combining APIs for new apps tends to be based on the art of identifying symbiotic relationships like weather, maps, and music preferences, some interesting combinations are stretching the possibilities of what APIs can enable. For example, developers are marrying APIs for speech recognition, the Internet of things, and cognitive computing to build completely new models for elementary education and engaging adults in their children’s’ learning processes.
The evolution of the API economy can be attributed to the interactions of two distinct groups — API providers and API consumers. An example of an API provider could be a bank that turns its online mortgage calculator into a service by exposing APIs to other organizations and enabling them to offer those capabilities to their customers, without having to develop the functionality on their own. An API consumer could be a real estate company that uses multiple APIs, like a mortgage calculator, maps, and reviews of local attractions, to provide relevant app-based services to its clients.
Driven by increasing business requirements and consumer expectations, the rapid pace of mobile app development has given rise to a growing community of “impatient” developers.
These developers excel at taking their app’s core value proposition, and mashing it up with various third-party APIs to feed the accelerated development cycles required to constantly update and add new features. For example, developers don’t need to spend time creating a mapping tool when there are various trusted APIs for existing geolocation services already available.
In the age of the impatient developer, it is not unheard of to have six to 12 APIs being utilized in a single app. One of the challenges of the rapidly expanding API economy is balancing the opportunity and the risk of poor APIs. Making sure APIs are coming from legitimate sources is one way to avoid “weak links” in the API chain and better manage the total quality of an app.
This explains why a trusted broker in the API economy plays a key role in delivering exceptional user experiences. The broker connects API providers and consumers and ensures that APIs are secure, available and accurate. This gives developers confidence that the links they are adding to their chain are robust.
Coupled with increased API accessibility is the power of analytics and cloud technologies that are making APIs more intelligent and accessible for developers, contributing to an exciting ecosystem of innovation and creativity. For example, the availability of greater analytics capabilities can make it easier to determine optimal “API pairing” — identifying which APIs tend to go well together — like those powering restaurant reviews and travel services. This API pairing makes it easier for API providers to collaborate and expand the number of businesses they are reaching, and for API consumers to maximize opportunities with the services they are offering.
To continue to nurture the API economy and expand opportunities in this space will require the expanded use of analytics to help mine the data behind the API, and analyze how the API is being used and shared. This insight will provide the next level of value to drive the API economy towards new approaches of API design and novel combinations of APIs and data. As APIs for cloud services become increasingly available, developers will have virtually limitless opportunities to unleash innovation and maximize user engagement.
Jerry Cuomo, an IBM Fellow and chief technology officer, provides technical direction and strategy for the next generation of innovation and value and is focused on several areas including cloud, mobile, virtualization, and advanced analytics. Follow him on Twitter @jerrycuomo or read his blog on IBM DeveloperWorks.
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