​How APIs Accelerate Business

CIOs should foster the development of application programming interfaces to connect corporate IT systems with mobile apps — and help CEOs reach business goals.

The growing need for mobile apps across an organization to perform such tasks as servicing consumers, empowering employees, and connecting with partners has reignited the discussion around APIs and web services. Today, providing popular content and applications to consumers on mobile and tablet devices quickly and cost effectively is an essential IT task, one that has many leading organizations implementing services-based architectures.

However, traditional APIs can take many months or even years to deliver. With today’s multi-channel mix of devices and platforms, meeting the needs of the mobile consumer quickly is a business imperative that CIOs are hard-pressed to keep pace with.

APIs are not new, of course, and most companies already have APIs within their organizations to power many desktop web applications and sites. But providing these APIs for mobile development to partners is a major shift in CIO focus that presents significant challenges.

Key challenges for the CIO
According to Gartner, the main problem organizations face when deploying technology is that the pace of IT is often slower than the business requires. Accordingly, organizations are increasingly looking for alternatives to create experiences quickly that will enable customer engagement across channels.

[Want more on how to develop an effective API strategy? Read 5 API Questions To Ask.]

A core competency for IT moving forward is the capability to securely and easily enable core business services in a scalable way. This allows business units across the organization (whether consumer-facing, employee-facing, or partner-facing) to make decisions about what they want to develop and the technology they need.

Once a decision has been made to create APIs that make available a company’s business functions and content, the CIO faces three major challenges:

    Building an API that provides REST-based interfaces to service like JSON or XML, ensuring the broadest uses and support for mobile and native app developers.
    Creating a full set of web services that combines the company’s traditional core functions along with social and local features. A retailer, for example, could include product availability search, the ability to log into a user account, payment and checkout systems, social support on Facebook and Twitter, and local promotions.
    Providing secure cloud-based access to services with the same level of support, uptime, and reliability as the company’s primary website.

Given the challenging nature of building APIs, organizations have defaulted to developing simple services with limited features. Often this is because many of the modern digital features on companies’ sites and systems have been built out into web application, JavaScript, and Ajax layers, which may not be easily adapted to be a web service or API.

Businesses leverage APIs to drive results
In order to sustain high-quality customer interaction, Forrester Research argues, organizations need to think in terms of the APIs — and the software behind them — to facilitate customer and partner integration with the organization’s technology systems.

Leading UK retailer Marks & Spencer is an example of a progressive company that is using services to enable a sophisticated shopping experience. The company uses web services to ensure multichannel features such as consistent checkout and a virtual basket within its native iOS app and in-store kiosks.

John Lewis, another leading UK retailer, also uses APIs to expand available functionality from its mobile website within its native iOS app, developed in-house. The forward-thinking approach of both these brands should be a model for businesses in a range of industries.

APIs are the future of multi-channel experiences
Successfully incorporating web services and APIs will enable businesses to more effectively manage a multi-channel customer engagement strategy that meets the needs of today’s digital consumers. But to do this, organizations must develop services that support their business objectives. Effectively leveraging APIs will save businesses significant time and investment and will contribute to their competitive differentiation.