Are we hitting peak API economy chatter?

Every company loves a good application programming interface. That's a good and bad thing. Enter sprawl, quality issues and API washing in the name of digital transformation.

To say there's a keen interest in the so-called API economy would be an understatement. To say the API economy may have some serious issues and be frothy could be more correct than not.

Not that it ever makes sense to call the top of the market, but there's enough to make me wonder about the frenzy over application programming interfaces and the bevy of vendors looking to manage them.

Consider:

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Now don't get me wrong. I love APIs as much as the next person. APIs are the glue that makes cloud computing a reality. APIs are the base layer for digital transformation. And APIs have saved billions of dollars in integration costs and manpower. APIs are what specifies how software interacts and swaps data. In many ways, APIs make the tech world go.

But APIs have issues too. For starters, there's API sprawl as every company creates one just to look trendy (APIwashing anyone?). Then there's a quality issue. Not every company maintains their APIs well. Naturally, there are a bevy of vendors looking to help you manage all of these APIs. Enter Gartner's Magic Quadrant from October 2016.

Sapho CEO Fouad ElNaggar noted in an interview that the API bandwagon may be a bit crowded. He should know. Sapho, which has a platform aimed at making legacy enterprise systems more engaging, has to connect to more than 70 APIs. Some of these APIs are well maintained. Some of them aren't. Many of these APIs fall some place in the middle.

"There are companies like Twilio that have great APIs," explained ElNaggar. "And then there are others."

In either case, tech and business decision makers are going to have to deal with all levels of APIs. Sales will connect to Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and Salesforce. Marketing connects to damn near everything, but Marketo and MailChimp are two regulars. Logistics integrates with FedEx, UPS and others. IT has Amazon Web Services, GitHub and others. Human resources will have ADP. Finance has an army of APIs. Communications will have Twilio. The list goes on forever.

So what's the reality check? Gartner in a few research notes outlined the following pointers:

  • API work needs to have real measurable value attached to it. Don't waste resources building an API no developer will use.
  • Only build an API if there's an identified consumer for it. There has to be a partner or ecosystem that needs it.
  • The average enterprise will consume more APIs than it provides. Departments will touch multiple APIs and it'll fall on CIOs to rein them in.
  • APIs are critical to the Internet of things, customer experiences, analytics and information systems. If you're building APIs that don't touch those items think twice.

Bottom line: APIs are critical, but that doesn't mean every CIO needs to build one.

ZDNet Monday Morning Opener

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener: