Embracing and understanding Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) across a whole organisation, rather than just within technical teams, is an important part of realising the full value of digital transformation. It is critical to move on from short-sighted API projects driven by technical necessity to strategically aligned efforts that unlock broader business benefits and opportunities. Organisations unable to make this shift are being dragged down by their legacy estate and left behind by the digital-native world.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a broad technical construct that have existed for almost as long as digital technology itself. They provide defined ways of exposing information, functionality or services, conceptually very much like User Interfaces (UIs). That is, an API or UI dictates what you can see and do with a system. However, where UIs enable humans to interact with digital systems, APIs enable digital systems to interact with other digital systems – whether that be on the same device or across networks. In other words, people talk to machines using UIs and machines talk to machines using APIs.
While APIs are nothing new, their technical nature means that their purposes and capabilities are rarely understood or championed by non-technical people in organisations, despite their huge significance in our digital world. As a result, the development of APIs is typically driven by narrow-sighted technical necessity rather than broader strategic intent, meaning these efforts rarely unlock the true value they can provide if their business potential is fully embraced.
Furthermore, we frequently see naive digital transformation efforts – ones grounded in unquestioned historical assumptions of the need for human actors to participate in processes and workflows – leading to technology merely being a change in medium rather than an opportunity for reinvention. Think of how absurd it is to be emailed that form you are required to print out, fill in by hand, scan and then return by email…
While we must not leave behind those who are not effectively engaging with the digital world, we must not use that as an excuse to take a lowest-common-denominator approach. Digitally capable organisations and individuals – the number of which is only ever increasing – should be offered digital services in forms that best enable them to further their interests; with increasing frequency, this is by means of an API rather than or as well as a UI. APIs can stream real-time information with precision and accuracy at scales no human can process. They can execute actions at rates faster than humans can react without tiring.
We should not fear or fight these capabilities, and we should not allow them to be ignored or dismissed through ignorance. Effective digital transformation is grounded in appropriately embracing the “superpowers” of the two available actors in processes:
humans bring free-form creativity and thought at the expense of speed and scale; while machines bring narrow hyper-efficiency and accuracy at the expense of adaptability.
Download our 'Open Your Eyes To APIs' white paper to continue this non-techical exploration of the oft-untapped potential of APIs.