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Quinton Wall is director of Technical Platform Marketing for Salesforce.com.

Application programming interfaces (APIs), were once the domain of IT departments and developers who relied on them to share data. Just like the human body, which uses veins and arteries to transport blood, APIs hid beneath the surface of every business, transporting streams of information vital to the health of the organization.

In those days, APIs were complicated, even fragile at times, and without maintenance could grow into an unwieldy tangle within businesses.

Over the past 10 years, the rise of cloud computing and Platform as a Service (PaaS) has been a critical factor in enabling businesses to innovate quickly without the complexity of working directly with APIs or on-premise systems. Developer-focused APIs are still present, but largely managed, upgraded, and improved by cloud service providers.

Editor’s note: For a more in-depth discussion of APIs and how businesses are using them, come to VentureBeat’s CloudBeat conference, Sept. 9-Sept. 10 in San Francisco. We’ll be featuring executives from leading API companies, including Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio, Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of SnapLogic, Sam Schillance, SVP of Engineering of Box, and more — all talking about the new API economy. Register today!

By the end of 2012, there were an estimated 7,000 APIs in the world– twice as many as the year before.  Organizations have begun creating APIs to expose their services to consumers including payment gateways, field service tracking, packaging and shipping, and online shopping. The business of APIs has become so important to how organizations operate that new marketplaces and platforms — including Apigee, Mashape, and Mashery — were created just to promote and manage them.

Cloud growth has also led to APIs playing a more critical role in the connected business. Companies such as Salesforce.com encourage business users to create their own apps by providing access to enterprise-grade services such as workflow, approvals and even data models.

This rise of business developers has unlocked a wave of innovation throughout organizations. Departments are no longer reliant on IT departments who are too busy managing existing systems — often made, ironically, by poorly defined or overly complex APIs — to deliver projects.

And then came mobile.

Mobile and the rise of the app economy has opened the API floodgates creating entirely new possibilities, first for the consumer and now for businesses. The inherent nature of mobile as context-aware and connected with the Internet spawned new businesses based around geo-location, new opportunities for businesses to market their products and new ways that employees could stay in touch with their business or even re-invent them altogether.

We are in the middle of a mobile renaissance fueled by the cloud and APIs. With an estimated 2.1 billion active mobile broadband subscribers in the world, and more than half the world’s population expected to be app users by 2017, this growth is only going to accelerate. But what does being mobile really mean? It is simply the new generation of connected devices designed for both the consumer and business. The writing is already on the wall: Nest has been valued at 800 million and Telsa is making the connected car a reality.

The true potential of APIs is to unleash an entirely new era of communication where every device in your home, your car and even your clothing is connected, sharing data and delivering insights back to business, in real-time, from billions of devices around the world.

And we haven’t seen anything yet. We’re just in the early stages of the connected app revolution.

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