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Why You Need an API-First Strategy for the Cloud

An API-first strategy is the new business imperative of our time

Slide Deck from Sal Visca's Cloud Expo® Presentation: Business APIs in the Cloud

Everyone talks about a cloud-first or mobile-first strategy. It's the trend du jour, and for good reason as these innovative technologies have revolutionized an industry and made savvy companies a lot of money. But consider for a minute what's emerging with the Age of Context and the Internet of Things. Devices, interfaces, everyday objects are becoming endowed with computing smarts. This is creating an unprecedented focus on the Application Programming Interface (API) as developers seek to connect these devices and interfaces to create new supporting services and hybrids. I call this trend the move toward an API-first business model and strategy.

At Elastic Path we've been talking about API-first for a few years, and we believe it's really about opening up your system and recognizing that APIs are going to be the main point of contact for all digital businesses. An API-first strategy is the new business imperative of our time.

Unified APIs Drive Great Digital Experiences
Customers are increasingly using digital touchpoints to interact with brands every day. For example, a consumer might be discovering, researching, buying, managing, or contributing to products and services. As more brands make a complete shift to digital, both marketing and technology professionals have come to the realization that digital customer experience is both an urgent priority and a key growth factor.

This transition to digital is also sweeping IT organizations away from their traditional role as a cost center and supporting resource to being front and center as a driver of customer-facing innovation and growth. Although these roles are new to many IT executives, they are having a significant impact on how they think and act. Like their counterparts who report to the CMO, a great percentage of professionals who work for the CTO appreciate the strategic importance of a great digital customer experience.

In a recent commissioned study, Forrester Consulting found that two-thirds of survey respondents said that unifying platform capabilities into a consistent set of APIs will be the key to unleashing business growth and to delivering great digital experiences.

This belief in the value of unified APIs persists even when considering specific industry scenarios. Take ecommerce for example - a well-understood digital experience paradigm where multiple applications power a wide variety of touchpoints. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they believe that a unified service layer represents the best approach. When a more ambiguous use case is suggested - driving digital experiences from a content management, CEM, or DXM platform - a unified service layer against is the ideal strategy, with a majority of survey respondents continuing to favor it.

Unified APIs eliminate the challenges that are symptomatic of the big bottleneck. They are an ideal solution for companies that are striving for a great digital customer experience.

The Language of Business
Indeed, APIs are coming into the mainstream. I've been in this industry for more than 20 years and we've always had APIs in some form or another. There's always been a way to communicate between systems. From a technical perspective, what's changing now is really the protocols between systems and how they're improving. The APIs that developers are working with today are much more focused on what I call the "Language of Business." For example, if you want to build an application for a mobile device, a modern API can help you do that without you having to know all about the underlying back-end systems. All you need to do is focus on creating a great user experience.

At Elastic Path, we're trying to reinvent the API by focusing on the needs of the business and abstract away all of the back-end complexity. We're on a mission to develop a better API, which we call Cortex. We call it Cortex because it's an intelligent API. It's intelligent because it does something no other API does: Cortex completely decouples client applications from business platforms, yet enhances their ability to securely retrieve data and perform transactions. This breakthrough API technology gives designers, developers, and API consumers the unprecedented freedom they need to create unique digital experiences. Once abstracted, these resources - from any source - are linked together to generate Cortex Business APIs that securely project your unified services to the world.

Developers Matter
Developers are a big deal. It's the developers who are building apps and making money on the Apple App Store, the Google Play store, and other online marketplaces. All of a sudden, the developer is cool again (if you're a developer, you already knew this). And Elastic Path thinks that's a great thing. We're trying to enable and empower the API-first developer with powerful tools, such as Cortex.

But developers aren't superhuman. Often, they have to spend weeks learning how to use a specific API, teach their code how to communicate with a system, often without a guarantee of success. Developer productivity, it turns out, is a very significant priority. That's why I think developers need tools to build very rich, high-engaging applications without having to know a lot about an underlying system.

The cloud computing landscape also plays an important part in an API-first strategy. Deploying your API to the cloud enables a streamlined approach and central control. Consider this scenario: A developer writes a client application that calls an API that's hosted in the cloud environment, but that API goes off and reaches back behind the corporate firewall to get data that you were authorized to retrieve. Perhaps it hits a public database. What's happening is that the API is federated across multiple systems. This is a big change from the old days when a developer would be forced to know all of the specific ins and outs of a system, how the back-end functionality works. That antiquated method really put the onus on the developer to figure it all out. That's all changed now, thanks to cloud computing and API-first strategies. With APIs available in the cloud environment, it's much easier for the developer to access and aggregate back-end complexity.

Armed with an API-first strategy, we are going to see a whole new generation of business-focused developers who are not your traditional software developers. Imagine the innovation that will come when you can push this innovation to the edge and start to open up new types of business models. I think that's really going to bring some amazing innovation in the market.

More Stories By Sal Visca

Sal Visca is the Chief Technology Officer at Elastic Path Software. He has over 24 years of experience developing long-term technology strategies, understanding emerging markets and technologies, and bringing new consumer and business solutions to market. He is responsible for developing Elastic Path's long-term technology strategies and bringing new enterprise e-commerce solutions to market.

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