About a year ago, I read an interesting article in The Economist about software platforms. A successful platform is essentially a software base that users leverage to work with other software and content. Microsoft Windows and its various iterations is probably the largest example of a successful platform. However, what happens when two different systems have to interact? A great example of this is how Apple made it possible for the iPhone to connect with a Windows-based PC. Apple was clever to create an early-on instance of iTunes for Windows, which became its platform within other platforms. This became the successful terminal through which Apple allows iPhone users to manage their iPhones, music, and other digital content.

Getting Set Up

Not all platforms can speak to one another immediately. Engineers established a process and programming method called Application Program Interface, or API, to allow other programs to “talk” to one another. APIs allow technical sources the ability to “hook” two or more platforms based on a few foundational programming methodologies. Most programmers must have an understanding of the rules behind HTTP and the local programming languages involved in the software. Understanding the practices and methodologies of Representational Transfer, or REST, also helps programmers build better connections between systems. In order to access the systems, most APIs leverage OAuth, which is an open standard for authorization.

In order to make full use of the power of API services provided by various platform systems, customers and service providers should discuss the following elements: Platform-ization priority, strategic objectives built upon tactical execution, the goals of APIs, a technical understanding of HTTP, OAuth, and RESTful services.

Platform-ization Priority

As prices fell for the cost of servers, memory, and disk space, a new market has been created for the management of data services. Software as a Service, or SaaS, became a new way for the IT industry to provide service and access to business of all sizes. This reduced the cost of operating IT services and increased scalability, led many to begin migrating data from on-premises solutions to ones stored in a secure “cloud.” With that, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Huddle, Drop Box, Box, among many others, rushed to provide online content management. Each of these has taken a different route to online content management. Strategically, however, they all have the same general goal: be the customer’s primary source for content management. With that, APIs need to be discussed in two formats, overall strategy, and then the tactical execution of that strategy.

Strategic Objectives

With the myriad of options out there to connect to and be connected with, the Cloud/Platform content management market businesses must be specific in their use case in order to optimize the value of API features. Once requirements are made clear, business owners can then review the ability of a platform to connect with existing systems.

Tactical Execution

No strategy can be effective without defined tactics. This is where programmers and technical resources shine, bringing about value from leveraging the API. Most APIs have source code, notes, wiki pages, examples and other pieces of information programmers and developers need to read before executing the strategic objectives. 

Goal of the API

The entire goal of an API is to allow systems to talk to one another and execute content-sharing based on business needs. If the business cannot define a way forward for its needs, or cannot envision a purpose for the connections between various systems, APIs may end up being a waste of time for the business. API configuration is not difficult to maintain, but is tedious to change or modify. As such, making many changes to the system can be a massive problem making the API a functional part of the business case.

Tradeoffs

As more users live hybrid lives, that is, using multiple platforms, APIs will continue to grow in importance and value. However, it takes serious effort to maintain and understand how these systems connect or ought to connect with various costs involved. Another issue at hand is the technical depth involved with APIs and meshing those with business management needs. Many businesses do not seem to understand the true value of APIs. Understanding how to best leverage them for the business needs requires serious planning and discussion. Once connections have been made with one system, it becomes increasingly difficult to sever connections with that platform so having a clear plan and end goal is paramount. 

APIs can be powerful connecting tools between businesses, business applications, and the platforms used to access data. Many of the big platforms on the market today provide some level of API integration. In order to leverage an API, business must identify specific requirements around their needs and tactically execute them. Otherwise, APIs become cumbersome to build and maintain. 


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