Tapping into the power of APIs

IT emerges as a business enabler with reusable building blocks.

The business world has become much more demanding of technology in recent years. Driven by a thirst to innovate and find efficiencies, the pressure on IT departments has grown exponentially. But they've now hit breaking point, and are being asked to take on more than they can handle.

According to a MuleSoft survey of global IT decision makers, more than half (59%) of organisations were unable to deliver on all their projects last year. In the UK that percentage was even higher, with over three quarters (76%) of businesses unable to complete all projects.

As technology in the business world evolves, so should operating models. MuleSoft's CTO, Uri Sarid, believes the answer lies in a new way of working where the IT department becomes a ‘business enabler' that helps departments build their own solutions, rather than delivering all IT projects itself. "The IT team's new role will centre around building and operating reusable assets with APIs, which the rest of the business can use to create the solutions they need," he recently wrote.

"The IT department will secure, manage and maintain the core IT systems, but will expose those, as building blocks, through APIs that enable other areas of the business to innovate by building their own applications," says Ian Fairclough, Vice-President of Services at MuleSoft EMEA. "It's a shift from an ‘all-doing' department to an enabling department."

One good example of this comes from Derby University, which built an automation framework using APIs into key platforms. By doing so, the institution enabled the IT department's focus to shift from IT fixes to business drivers.

 

The growth of APIs

The popularity of APIs has grown thanks to an increased appetite for mobile application development, containers and cloud services - amongst other things.

"Back in 2015 the community forum ProgrammableWeb had 12,000 different APIs on its listings," says Raymond Pompon, Director of F5 Labs at F5 Networks. "The influence and spread of APIs has continued to grow in recent years and by October 2019 the number of APIs on Programmable Web's systems stood at nearly 23,000. With this, we've seen a surge in API investments, in fact, according to findings from KBV research, by 2024 businesses will spend $6.2 billion on API management."

 

API-led connectivity

By unlocking the full potential of APIs, businesses will be able to deliver digital transformation and innovate quicker, not only because the wider business will no longer have to rely on IT departments to run each project, but also because API-led connectivity has the power for companies to become far more agile as it enables them to update their infrastructure more quickly and easily than ever before.

"And speed isn't the only benefit," says Alex Reddish, Chief Commercial Officer at Tribe Payments. "The modular nature of API-enabled software means systems are more sustainable and easier to switch out or upgrade when the time comes."

 

Personalisation and integration

Unsurprisingly there's a strong trend towards using APIs to innovate - taking several systems and "API-ing" them together to do something unique and personalised. A benefit of this is the unlocking of silos of data, connecting and enriching these with other sources.

"MuleSoft's 2020 Benchmark Connectivity Report showed that the average organisation has 900 applications, but only 28% of these are currently integrated," says Reddish. "APIs link this disjointed technology, allowing businesses to connect fragmented applications and build a more cohesive IT infrastructure. To that end, it's inspiring to see that 80% of companies are now integrating public and/or private APIs, and we can only expect that figure to continue to grow in the coming years."

 

APIs and the financial sector

API-led connectivity adoption is already growing across a variety of industries. In fintech it started with payment-orientated use cases, says Reddish, spurred on by open banking, but it's now driving new technical approaches across retail banking, insurance, mortgages and even into capital markets.

"The benefits of using API-led connectivity are far-reaching, but financial services is where we can see the advantages of APIs being used to their full effect," he says. "The past few years has seen the banking sector shaken up by nimble, tech-savvy fintechs that are challenging traditional players who have failed to innovate. These players are taking advantage of API connectivity to integrate third-party solutions, build product marketplaces and expand their services beyond their base offerings."

 Another example comes from aerospace giant Airbus. When the company began to focus on digital transformation, one of the first things it did was implement its Anypoint Platform, designed to enable an API-first strategy across the business. The company is now building a library of reusable APIs which can aggregate data from multiple backend systems.

"Anypoint Platform allows us to rapidly unlock the data in our legacy platforms…and use it to optimise our manufacturing and supply chain processes," said Chris Taylor, VP Digital Accelerator, Airbus in a case study of the project.

 

Considerations

In order to capture the full value of APIs MuleSoft recommends a company-wide strategy to enable API use across the business. Currently more than half (54%) of businesses questioned for its Benchmark Connectivity Report implement APIs on a project-by-project basis or use a strategy that's siloed to certain parts of the business.

"[API projects] need the same level of governance and control as any other part of IT - you can create good or bad integration, you can create risks across systems. You can automate ad-hoc, but when the coder leaves you have chaos. We think APIOps is an essential discipline within IT and you need a framework and process to make sure you don't create a spiderweb of complexity," says Chris Gabriel, Chief Technology Officer at Logicalis. He recommends creating a new role to oversee such a project; a "chief integration or automation officer".

"[They] have to be able to set a vision, but also drive integration in a structured way, building mini business cases, understand what the integration will achieve, the implications up and downstream; it's not as simple as just hooking two things up," he notes. "The API economy for the CIO and business could be rich, but you need to make sure the investments you make are strategic and well managed," he concludes