APIs and platforms begin to flex their business muscles

As platform-oriented organizations ascend, interest in enterprise APIs grows. Of interest lately: data and analytics.

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Amazon's announcement that it is buying Whole Foods is another example of the fusion taking place between online providers and physical stores. The possibilities for the future of food purchasing and delivery are endless, from pick-up and go to same-day, drone-based deliveries.

The purchase also points to another trend shaping the business space that is cutting across all industries: the ascendancy of the platform-based enterprise. By platform, we are talking about the consumption and creation of services and conduits -- clouds and APIs -- that extend technologies and processes well outside the four walls of organizations, opening up innovation and opportunities via a network effect.

Stacking up the cloud vendors: AWS vs. Microsoft Azure, IBM, Google, Oracle

Amazon has masterfully led the API movement, with such resources as its API Gateway for Amazon Web Services functionality and Product Advertising API for online retail affiliates. Joshua Seiden, writing in MarketWatch, observes that Amazon is likely to do well with its Whole Foods acquisition not only because it understands retail, or even because it understands e-commerce. Amazon is likely to succeed because it's a platform.

The way to open up platforms to the world, and enable the world to give back with innovation and network growth, is through open APIs. .

Amazon Web Services has grown to the gigantic behemoth it is because it is a platform, Seiden writes. "Since 2006, Amazon has been systematically making services available to developers outside of Amazon through AWS. Amazon's work has been, essentially, a kind of business-wide user testing: Amazon gets firsthand, immediate feedback on how their software works in the broader marketplace. Who is using it? How? That gives Amazon the ability to sense and respond -- to market test, benchmark, and improve -- all of its internal services to make them extremely flexible, responsive to new needs and able to withstand competitive pressures. Amazon's back-end systems are like no other systems in the retail world. They're not closed, proprietary systems, but open, widely supported and well-suited to the integration work that's coming."

Enterprise functions are the fastest-growing area supported by open APIs, the most recent research from ProgrammableWeb finds. The site's Enterprise category "emerged as a result of the number of enterprise software vendors looking to engage their customers via API in addition to, or in replacement of traditional user interfaces," states Wendell Santos, editor of ProgrammableWeb, "The growth of the category more than likely, in law of supply and demand fashion, reflects those customers' interest in API-driven approaches both from a consumption and provisioning point of view. As enterprises better understand the power of APIs, it is natural for them to build APIs for their own internal consumption."

ProgrammableWeb, the go-to source for public APIs, reports there are now more than 17,000 publicly available APIs now in use. Approximately 2,000 new APIs are added to ProgrammableWeb's directory every year.

Here is Santos' summary of the top 10 areas in which API growth has been taking place over the past year:

  1. Data (209 new APIs)
  2. Analytics (123)
  3. Ecommerce (106)
  4. Serach (106)
  5. Financial (106)
  6. Business (99)
  7. Marketing (96)
  8. App development (89)
  9. Cloud (87)
  10. Payments (85)

So, what does this all mean? It shows that enterprises are aggressively seeking -- and providing -- solutions that enable greater access to data-driven decision making. The data-driven enterprise is becoming a reality, and much of it it is being built upon pre-built APIs or cloud-based solutions that offer analytics and storage capacity for all that data.

Of course, ProgrammableWeb's statistics also show Amazon doesn't have a lock on the API world by any means. Many other organizations outside of the tech mainstream are also getting API religion.

Qantas Airlines is one such example of a major company evolving into a platform provider as well as consumer, As Mark Boyd cites in a recent post. Qantas opened up its capabilities to both customers and employees through an API strategy that modernized its systems. "APIs are helping Qantas unlock legacy services in new ways so that internal and partner developers can start building new features and products that augment those customer experience pillars," Boyd observes. "APIs are connecting assets in Qantas' AWS cloud to ensure systems are resilient and can scale with demand. APIs are introducing new automated processes so that complexity and duplication are reduced.The result is that APIs are making it possible for Qantas to reimagine the way it operates as a company to being customer-focused at its very core."

We'll be exploring the role of APIs as a transformative force -- evolving companies into platform-based enterprises -- in posts to come.

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