As Marc Andreessen declared in 2011, software is eating the world. If you want to establish and keep your competitive advantage, you will need to leverage software to make it as easy as possible for those with whom you do business to engage with you.
Historically, API's were developed to encapsulate business functionality for internal end users to incorporate into web applications, BPM solutions, mobile applications, etc. Nowadays, businesses need to open them to their external users such as customers, partners, and suppliers.
Simply put, APIs can help you create a seamless network to improve value transfer with clients, vendors/suppliers, partners and employees and here’s how.
1. Eliminate Barriers
If you're already engaging your clients or partners through portals or mobile applications, that’s a great first step. But, you may be inadvertently creating barriers for those folks in the form of logins and lack of flexibility. If you create an open API that your external end user can integrate into their application and customize to their needs, you're removing any barriers from them using your services or goods. The ability to integrate directly into your system will give them far more freedom and ability to help themselves. This creates long-term buy-in from the customer.
No application is built perfectly to suit everyone’s unique needs. Giving customers easy access to your interface allows them to use your product in a way that best suits their needs and makes them far less likely to move away to a less flexible model. Every request to the system creates the opportunity for deeper insights and a “stickier”, long-term relationship between the two of you.
2. Promote Innovation
Web portals and mobile applications assume a certain level of usage requirements. Focusing on UX enables you to design an application to provide the maximum value to your end use. But at the same time, you're pre-determining how your service is being used. If you strip it back and open API for customers, partners, and vendors, they may use it in ways you never considered. You may realize that there are whole new industries and verticals you can service. If your customers can use the interface the way they want to use it, they may create new products or open source and share with other people. In some cases, API providers have even incorporated some of the functionality that their end-users have extended.
3. Utilize Customer Insights
Usage logging is nothing new in developing an understanding of how end users are interacting with various applications. But too often the efforts of analyzing this data is spent on determining how the users are interacting with the application rather than the services that are most useful to them. If your API is integrated into an application by the end-user, you'll be able to analyze how you provide value to the end user’s organization, not just the user. By focusing on analyzing the services called rather than application usability, you can invest in making improvements in the areas that matter most to your top customers.
If a customer is calling a service to retrieve a status or work order, for example, you can understand that they really value clarity on when work orders are processed and completed. If your top 10 customers are using that service, then clearly it would behoove you to prioritize that service for improvement when determining your business’s strategic road map.
4. Streamline Operations
In addition to customers, you should be considering internal end users as well as suppliers and partners. Imagine the potential for your organization if you can connect requests from your customers to an on-demand model that notifies internal resources as well as external suppliers or partners. By completing this circuit, you created a digital business that is primed to scale. You can automate requests and responses amongst multiple parties instead of being the gatekeeper or, more likely, the roadblock.
Providing open access to your API is an invaluable way to create and maintain long-term, profitable business relationships.
Find out how you can use open APIs to become nimbler and make it easy as possible for people to engage with you. Join our September 28th Roundtable at the Technology Executive Club meeting in Chicago, Developing an API Strategy: Increasing Efficiency and Engagement.