APIs, a programmer's tool, are opening up the gates to business innovation

Application programming interfaces, once used to stitch applications together, now stitch entire businesses together.

"APIs are first and foremost an integration technology. But the digital era is making them increasingly relevant to the business side." - "Driving Revenue Through API Enablement," published by Accenture.

Industry veterans will recall the original purpose of application programming interfaces (APIs), which was to specify how software components integrate with each other. Now, with the rise of web APIs, they also support integration between business services.  They have become the foundation of interactions between businesses.

Various estimates put the number of public APIs at about 12,000, and at least 10 times that number of private APIs within enterprises. Their impact is being felt everywhere at the business level these days. They're opening up the financial industry like never before, according to Andrew Lewkowicz. "APIs open up access to financial data with easily configurable data, much as the travel and consumer goods industries have done by opening up their reservation systems and product catalogs to drive new markets for growth, advertising and payment platforms," he writes. "Opening up financial data with newer technologies (e.g. JSON for mobile development) will change the game for how financial data is consumed and used for analysis, strategic decision making, research and investing."

A recent report from Accenture states the business value of web APIs was been growing signifcantly. APIs can serve to enable business partners (internal and external) to share information on customers, launch new processes, tap into new data sources, and to support product lines.

APIs now have four roles to play in a corporate digital strategy, Accenture says:

Provide a ubiquitous customer experience: By extending core services via APIs, collaboration between enterprises is opened up. "APIs can drive ubiquitous connectivity across business partners and even entities with which no formal relationship exists," according to Accenture.

Nurture digital innovation: We've only just begin to tap the potential of APIs. "Exposing hidden data and services will open usage in ways companies cannot imagine," according to Accenture. "Current partners, new partners and third-party developers can fuel innovation by creating new products that customers did not know they wanted and companies did not realize their data could enable."

Capture bigger data from outside the enterprise: Big data becomes really big data as APIs open up new sources. "APIs make it possible to correlate external data from multiple sources by integrating with partners and vendors. In this way, companies can build an ever-more intelligent view of customers to offer more relevant, tailored and unique products and services."

Facilitate a next-generation delivery model: APIs accomplish what SOA advocates set out to do over the past decade -- break down monolithic applications into digestible chunks of services. In turn, these services can be packaged for specific purposes for specific markets. As Accenture puts it, "companies can own their value-added services and expose data at the technical level, allowing the ecosphere of third-party programmers to compete for developing a user interface for it. This competition can result in a higher quality product and faster time to market."