I sat down with Brian Gracely (@bgracely) and Christian Reilly (@reillyusa) of Bechtel recently to talk about the evolving API and app economy. We had a terrific discussion about the adoption of mobile devices and how open access to data is unlocking tremendous new business value. Check out the Cloudcast.net podcast.
Christian gives us terrific insight and first-hand knowledge of why it makes sense for a big traditional enterprise to use APIs. It starts with mobile devices driving the strategy. Mobile devices have evolved from toys in the enterprise to real business tools for people at every level in today's enterprise. We see the same story play out for all kinds of enterprises - from large-scale construction, to retail, to healthcare, to Telco, and others. Data entry and collaboration on job sites and in offices around the globe are now driven by apps on smartphones and tablets. This increases immediacy and accuracy of data capture and project management, reduces cost and risk, and improves compliance.
In a pre-API world, enterprises were mired in large applications that were bound behind physical and digital walls. As mobility grew exponentially and with it different expectations from consumers took hold, these large, legacy, internal applications simply couldn't cut it from a usability or user acceptance point of view. An application accessed from a tablet or smartphone through a browser or remote terminal is not an acceptable experience, as people get used to cool apps for all aspects of their lives on their mobile devices.
In our conversation, I think Christian aptly captured the new environment as one in which "people don't want apps - they want information."
This realization drives a whole different mindset. In addition to the demand for a different experience on mobile than on desktop, enterprises also have to think differently about how to provide access to the information people needed. APIs were the obvious solution. Enterprises can expose read/write access selectively with APIs and they don't have to replicate the entire app.
Adopting an API strategy allows enterprises to do things like focus their investment on making robust APIs, which makes it easy for developers to build apps. Enterprises can leverage the creativity of (in-house or external) developers to build light-weight UIs (which can be very simple interfaces) that allow users to get and put data from anywhere and from numerous devices. They no longer have to be sitting in an office close to the "enterprise applications" and systems of record like ERP or billing systems.
In this scenario, IT became responsible for exposing the business as a platform, driving a fundamental change in the speed at which business can be done. Instead of IT projects taking years, they were now taking months. As a result, enterprises experience higher level of fluidity and flexibility - much more rapid and experimental development cycles and take advantage of natural feedback loops. This all directly relates to an enterprise's revenue and profitability.
Simply, this means that the constant underlying platform is the API. Apps, while critical for the last mile, are a more fluid component, available for rapid change, augmentation with other apps, or disposal.
There are many examples of companies who understand how to apply and invest in APIs in order to support the type of consumer and partner engagement that's the mark of the economy we're seeing in front of us, and they are being directly rewarded in revenue and profit.