Sundays in the fall are fantastic. Why? The NFL and APIs are making it fun to watch football games with enhanced information for all my fantasy football players. I can sit in front of the TV with my iPad and follow all the scoring and updates. Some day soon my TV will have apps that access the precious player statistic APIs.
This got me thinking about how APIs will change the way we live, utilize our assets (like TVs) and measure success. In the football analogy, I immediately thought of two people that did the same for the NFL- Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. Although Bernie Kosar is credited for popularizing the term "West Coast Offense," Walsh and Montana executed the new offense and changed the game forever.
Retail 2.0 and Football
The West Coast Offense changed the utilization of the game's legacy assets: a leather football, a 100 yard field, established rules, and 11 elite athletes. The new offense focused on the passing game and emerged in the 1980s when the NFL was dominated by the run game. In 1979 the San Francisco 49ers drafted Joe Montana in the 3rd round (82nd overall); when all was said and done he won 4 Superbowls and broke almost every passing record to date - no one could touch the 49ers. However, this was all done with a largely unproven strategy that remixed the game and emerged as innovation.
Where am I going with this? Well in today's world of retail and ecommerce, the Walsh and Montana are the Amazons, Twitters and Facebooks. You might not think of these companies as analogous, or even competitive- but they are coming to your field. They are setting the standards for commerce, integration and brand interaction. They've got a strategy to proliferate and dominate - and it's through APIs.
If your company doesn't have an API strategy you'll face a passing game that your run game can't keep up with. It's projected that there will be 1 trillion connected devices in 2020. How will they connect to your enterprise? APIs. Why? Because the players that are remaking the game are using them at a rate of billions of transactions a day and they are winning the Superbowl. Product companies are creating their foundations in APIs, from your iPhone to your TV. APIs are one of the greatest integration points in the history of computing.
Getting in Shape for the Season
There are several approaches to implementing an API as the ultimate integration point. The goal is to extend your enterprise's assets to more consumers, devices and partners; it becomes a system integration effort rather than a new application development effort. You're not really building new systems as much as you are creating an integration layer, "the cartilage," between the consumers and your internal systems.
You might also provide some aggregation functionality. For example, when someone uses your API to request inventory, you can aggregate multiple sources of inventory, providing a single unified view to the consumer. Again, you are hiding the complexities and details of your internal systems behind a simpler, coarser gained API. Think of the consumers, devices and partners of the API as wide receivers that are running down the field towards the end-zone.
End game? You'll score faster and more often with an API in the future.