Many factors, such as price, features, and quality, drive customer demand for products and services. However, what seems to be causing a paradigm shift in the way businesses are reaching out to prospects is their ability to provide their offerings now. Customer demand for instant gratification and immediate satisfaction is driving the way companies are looking to win in the Now Economy – or as, Google likes to call it, the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
It is fair to say that the customer is controlling the marketplace more than ever, and the challenge only increases when we look at B2B enterprises seeking to win the real-time game. Different enterprises specializing in their own core competencies create an interdependent ecosystem that fuels the Now Economy. In this ecosystem, businesses depend on other businesses to attract and serve customers in the moment. The need to serve customers instantly fuels the need for these businesses to collaborate instantly as well.
The Role of APIs and Integration Platforms
Digital connectivity plays a crucial role in making companies “now-ready.” In a world where data is getting bigger and wider by the minute, what matters most is how agile the organizations are in making sense and use of that data. Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are the cornerstone of enabling this digital connectivity. APIs will deliver the much talked-about promise of the Internet of Things, where all kinds of devices will be connected via internet protocol, from smart phones to cars to household appliances to sensors in all manner of industrial equipment, or even intelligent technology such as smart meters. Technology leader Cisco has estimated that as many as 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 – so every company needs a way to respond to this coming reality.
Today, businesses rely on collating, exposing, transforming and analyzing data from disparate sources to earn their place in the “now” economy. There is a growing need for enterprise-grade connectivity platforms that address the above-mentioned challenges, and are also secure and completely virtual for the business owners. These connectivity platforms provide a way to expose and grab the data from many systems (like SAP, NetSuite, and more) so other businesses and departments can use that data to power their “Now Economy” endeavors instantly – without the time-consuming headaches of integration, transformation and workflow management.
Booking a Table in the Now Economy
To see what powers everything in the Now Economy, let’s look at an example of a hungry customer searching for a restaurant for dinner. Imagine an app that would provide her all the information she needs from her favorite, trusted online sources. In a few taps, she would be able to search for restaurants, read reviews, scan menus and, if convinced, make reservations – all in a single app, instantly!
But what goes on behind the scenes to power this instant gratification? Our app in question might have fetched data from various apps and services like Google, Yelp, Urbanspoon and OpenTable. These apps have APIs that expose data in real time, which is then extracted and transformed to the desired format that is consistent with our app’s requirements. Similar use cases are applicable to data existing in various ERPs, CRMs and custom applications. An API management capability backed by an integration platform makes a complete experience possible now.
Making APIs Ready for the Now Economy
Businesses that expose their APIs to other businesses, in this case our restaurant app, can get information to their customers immediately without worrying about how and where to expose this data securely. Any platform that can successfully manage APIs should also take care of the most important concerns about exposing and accessing data:
Real-time capability - While exposing APIs, the ability of a system to respond instantaneously to a request is very important. Many workflows depend on instant responses to move to the next business step.
Inter-system communication - The platform should support communication between systems that expose certain protocols and reside in closed secure networks. My post on hybrid architecture talks in detail about incorporating secure connections between on-premise (private) and cloud (public) systems.
Data compatibility - Different systems store data in different formats, data types and fields. The platform should provide the ability to transform data so it can be consumed by various systems. This transformation layer is the key for business components to understand each other.
Data security - Credentials to the systems should be secure and not even accessible to platform operations teams. Also, data must not be stored anywhere while it is being exposed and transformed. Providing a way to stream the data through the system without storing it not only generates confidence in data owners, but also lessens the security burden on the API platform.
Scalability – This is important to address future growth based on changing usage requirements. Platforms should have the ability to scale to cater the needs of multiple tenants using it. My post on vertical and horizontal scaling in enterprise cloud platforms takes a deeper look into creating a scalable architecture.
Throttling - Even when a platform can scale infinitely, related business systems might not be able to, or system owners might not want their components to be hit at a similar scale. Providing a way to throttle API requests is a crucial mechanism for businesses to protect their data systems.
Developer enablement – Enabling organizations to expose their data through APIs is a big part of the API platform puzzle, but enabling their end customers (i.e., their own business units or other developers) to consume the APIs completes the solution. From a developer’s point of view, enterprises must provide: easy access to APIs, clear and accurate monetization strategy, documentation, interactive coding assistance, and tools for testing API functionality and apps. When these elements come together, an organization is ready for the Now Economy.
When businesses can use workflows on their internal systems, expose them to the external world in real time, and eliminate guesswork from decision-making, the possibilities are endless. API platforms offer companies the ability to do “all things data” and enable enterprises to take on new challenges. They are soon becoming the cornerstone of how to work with digital data to ride the wave of the Now Economy. With underlying hardware in computing and networking becoming commoditized and even irrelevant, new value is being created primarily through such platforms in this multi-application, mixed-workload, virtualized environment. This means that no company can afford to ignore APIs – its own or those of other organizations – if it truly wants to join the Now Economy.