Nation Building in the Age of APIs

I’ve been working with a number of companies lately on their API strategies.  People seem to recognize that having an API is modern day necessity, but they’re not sure how to get started.  Since APIs are viewed as a technical innovations, responsibility for rolling them out is frequently handed to IT groups.

Clearly, there is business value to be attained by companies who utilize an API, and an accessible web API is a requirement for modern corporations.  For companies looking to launch an API, there is a temptation to focus on the technological aspects of implementation.  Good API design, architecture, and infrastructure are vital to the success of a company’s API, but there are other areas to address first.  I am currently reading the book “Why Nations Fail”, and recently read “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.  Although the former is a geopolitical study whereas the latter focuses on the human mind, both share an identical observation that is the foundation of their arguments: a great amount of economic study is flawed because it fails to account for human behavior and tendencies.  I feel the same way about technology.

Every paradigm shift in technology has been driven by both innovation—the new technology itself—and application—how that technology can be used.  In other words, there is a machine side and a people side to every technology change.  The technologists responsible for implementing these changes often bias towards their comfort zone—the machine side—and overlook the people side.  This has led to frustration for companies who invest significantly in new technology only to miss the intended benefits of the change.  For APIs, the people side of the change is especially important.  In fact, the social nature of the API world means there are even more groups of people to consider.  Ultimately, the success of a company’s API will depend on the creation of a diverse community for that API—end users, partners, developers, and more—as well as the adoption of a business model that allows the API to contribute to the company’s bottom line.  Taking the community and the economics together, this means you will need to build a nation for your API.

Some of the biggest companies on the web have taken this approach with their APIs, and I recently explored some of their winning tactics in this VentureBeat article.  Please have a read and let me know your thoughts, and perhaps your own API lessons

The Author

Matt McLarty

Team Lead

Matt McLarty is an experienced software architect who leads the API Academy at CA Technologies. He helps organizations with their strategy and architecture for APIs, microservices and enterprise integration. Matt recently co-authored the book Microservice Architecture for O’Reilly, with his API Academy colleagues.

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