Another view: APIs are not the be-all and end-all to enterprise computing

APIs may be delivering an incredible array of business services. But in the end, they are another tool in an ongoing evolution.

Is it time to move beyond enterprise IT and into the API realm? In an article at Harvard Business Review, Thomas Davenport and Bala Iyer argue just that, noting that "we increasingly see sophisticated organizations competing in an 'API economy' in which application programming interfaces are the primary approach to inter-organizational collaboration and information exchange." If your enterprise IT is only focused on the internal enterprise, "you’re already falling behind in the API economy," they argue.

However, some industry thinkers are saying 'hold that thought.' Michael Poulin, for one, says there's more to enterprise IT services than APIs. Michael, who has written and spoken extensively over the years on service technology matters, says APIs may be great works of technology, but are just that -- another technology delivery system.  

Having an API strategy does not make a business "service oriented," he argues, noting that service orientation is a state sought by businesses for centuries. APIs -- as has been the case with Web services and REST protocols in recent years -- are merely tools that help deliver on service orientation. "In both cases technologies of interfaces try to substitute actual hard-working services," he writes.

A discussion on the business value of APIs was initiated by Patrick Gray over at TechRepublic (a sister site to ZDNet), who sees a convergence between service oriented architecture principles and the API culture. "Building your IT infrastructure around a series of well-defined business-oriented services becomes even more powerful when those services are broadly and easily accessible, whether the audience is purely internal or more wide reaching," Patrick states.

Ultimately, SOA is technology-agnostic, and Michael cautions that perceived setbacks of SOA in recent years are due to the fact that it was too closely tied to specific technology-based approaches. "I am afraid that if we continue working at the API level only, our cloud services will become only API-accessible applications and our business will lose the business values offered by cloud providers via their services." Only 20 percent of a service is about the interface (such as API or even telephony), he argues, while 80 percent "constitutes means for managing business values of services."

For his part, Patrick distinguishes between SOA and API, noting that SOA is part of a well-planned enterprise transformation, while APIs are just as likely to come from outside the corporate walls as internal departments. Still, APIs have been a revolutionary force that has brought powerful capabilities to every developer and his or her organization -- and have rejuvenated interest in moving toward highly service-oriented enterprises.

(Thumbnail photo: Joe McKendrick.)