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The Critical Role of APIs – Part 1

APIs are at another defining moment in their history. We are living in a world where cloud-based APIs are re-shaping almost everything we do in the digital world. Every aspect of software and hardware will now be exposed as an API in the cloud. In the old days, you could build applications that “lived” in one or two or maybe three places.

Why use APIs?

Both Apple and Microsoft pioneered the use of APIs. It wasn’t in the cloud (it was machine-based) but you could access it on a particular device. So if a developer was building an application for Windows, s/he didn’t have to write all the code from scratch, which had huge implications on productivity. Its impact on productivity is one of the mainstays of the API economy. Why would you want your engineering resources to write thousands of lines of code over weeks to power online payment, if you have the choice of plugging into the PayPal API?

But now, complex, distributed systems are built and accessed everywhere, all the time. If you are building a self-driving car, you shouldn’t have to build a mapping application or a traffic application. Plugging into existing cloud-based mapping and location APIs enables you to focus all your expertise and energy on your innovation, and not have to build out every piece of functionality yourself. You can take advantage of services that have already been built by experts in their field using AI, machine learning, big data and more.

If you can access it through an API, it makes your app, your business, and your customers’ experience a lot better. That is why in a totally distributed world, you have no choice but to build apps that take advantage of other cloud-based APIs, and you also are better off to expose your own services through a cloud-based API.

How APIs Gained Momentum

This cloud-based API revolution started 16 years ago when Amazon, Salesforce.com and eBay first exposed their APIs. Allowing businesses to integrate Salesforce services with other applications was a CRM game changer. Following this, social networks, Google Maps, and mobile computing further pushed the growth and adoption of APIs. As API adoption was gaining momentum, Amazon saw the potential for RESTful APIs and broke through with cloud computing – it forever changed the way business was done.

As a business today, you need to go where the customers are as opposed to get them to come to you. If you are a big company, people will come to you. But if you’re a small startup, you need to go where your consumers and partners are. You want them to integrate your service into an app that already exists. The right way to do both of those is through cloud-based APIs. It makes the case for a more open access world whether it’s data or a machine learning algorithm. After Instagram exposed its API and let users share their images on other social platforms, it made their app a lot more effective and popular, as opposed to simply being a photo-taking tool.

Where are APIs going?

Everything can and will be a web service. Every piece of hardware, software, the network – it can all be accessed through a cloud-based API. The network operators first took advantage of this idea. They were tightly coupled but were made accessible.

It’s definitely easier and more efficient to take the cloud-based API approach now. However, if you have legacy systems and a certain inertia associated with it, it’s more challenging as those systems are harder to rip out. But there are more and more startups adopting the cloud-based API approach. They think about it as open access approach.

Everybody knows that they need to do it. Mindsets have changed and people have recognized the value of cloud-based APIs. At this point, as we are on the brink of stunning innovations like the Internet of Things, the possibilities that cloud-based APIs offer are truly endless.

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