Launching APIs is a multi-faceted approach to winning in mobile.
Apps Grow Up, Make Money, Save Brands
In 2010 Delyn Simons, formerly the head of eBay’s (News - Alert) highly successful developer program stated, “Behind every good app is an API.” In 2012, the projection is that “behind every successful app there will be a number of APIs (application programming interfaces) that power it.” Apps are becoming big business, with more than 250 million app downloads on Christmas Day alone and a record number of Android (News - Alert), iPad, and iPhone sales during the holidays. The world has been mobile for a decade, but now the mobile world is so omnipresent and dynamic that it is altering business and culture at impressive rates.
With the explosion of tablets and smartphones, the Web browser is being complemented (if not soon dominated) by the mobile browser, where consumers and B2B users increasingly consume data via device keyboards and touchscreens. Most users aren’t aware that what powers this data agility is not microprocessors, enterprise software or legions of mice, but global APIs. What was once an esoteric IT term will become the dominant business mandate for any company looking to win in mobile over the long haul. App success is iterative, experiential and data-dependent. Therefore, any business approaching apps without APIs is going to experience mobile app logjams in their IT departments and mobile app lethargy with their design firms.
APIs are not an “Implementation”
A company without an API strategy in 2012 is a company without a mobile strategy. Unlike most other technology initiatives, successful API programs are managed as a launch, not an implementation. The ongoing blend of marketing, usability, design, promotion and pricing all factor into whether a business can compete successfully in the mobile space with their data, goods and services. Business leaders that leave it up to the IT department to manage these elements of an API launch will soon hear the crickets chirp as their APIs sit in a disjointed bubble, unable to compete with competitors that see the business of APIs, not just the technology. Below is a graphic of the iterative and sequential nature of managing APIs successfully.
The successful businesses with APIs, such as Klout, Expedia (News - Alert), ESPN and Best Buy, regularly assess their API potential by evaluating the uniqueness and breadth of their data assets. The more refined the data, the easier it is for developers to access it, and the greater the chance that branded APIs will find their way into a multitude of apps. For example, Yellow Pages programmatically and strategically exposed their data location assets in order to become an open data source for over 1,400 developers. As a result, they were embedded within over 350 apps in the first year of launching their public APIs. The success of the API program led to highly visible mashups and mobile apps with companies like Facebook and Foursquare, two major players in the API trading market. This fit in perfectly with Yellow Pages’ goal of becoming the business location platform, a complete transformation (if not salvation) of their core business.
Without a diligent and regular discovery process for assessing data assets and exposing new web services, business leaders will not get market-based feedback on the appeal and uniqueness of their APIs. This could open the door for competitors to insert themselves into a new data relationship with a company’s channel partners – and worse yet, their mobile customers. Any business that loses a mobile customer in 2012 has a 50 percent chance of losing the customer altogether.
The next feature on Successful API Strategies will expand on the Definition phase of a launch.
Drew Bartkiewicz is Head of Strategy at Mashery (News - Alert), and a NYC-based investor and founder of data platforms business.
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Edited by Stefanie Mosca