The rise of APIs is more about a new way of doing business than another programming paradigm.
A few weeks ago, I read this interesting article on API usage on ReadWriteWeb and David’s quote really hit home with me. As a digital strategist that has been involved in his fair share of development, I’ve seen API’s evolve from merely offering read-only access to – otherwise closed – data to a whole new modus operandi for developers and businesses, that now have real-time access to the data and functionality of pretty much any service they need. And this is not limited by the virtual world anymore…
“An application programming interface (API) is a specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other.”
Business & product as a platform
In the past, API’s used to be the domain of IT developers. However, this is changing rapidly, as more and more businesses and their products are becoming interconnected entities that play a part in larger ecosystems, transcending the divide between the virtual and the real world. This means the API-model is no longer restricted to just the communication between software or digital services, it’s usable way beyond that. And whether you call this the internet of things, smart/wearable tech, or just Nike+, it’s all coming down to the same thing: businesses and their products are more and more transforming into (open) platforms.
Products vs. Platforms
I believe this trend marks the beginning of an era of ‘platformization’, which requires a different mindset for both producers and consumers. Rather than having a narrow view of products or organizations, this ‘platform-view’ allows you to have a broad, holistic view of all the activities that it enables, the data it generates (& requires) and the way it interfaces with the user. For instance, instead of looking at a tennis-racket as a product, you could also look at it like this…
The racquet can detect service speed, the power of each hit and ball spin to give players feedback on their performance. Sensors located in the handle also monitor the type of stroke — forehand, backhand, serve — and the position of the ball on the racquet, enabling analysis of both technique and game statistics. Information is sent wirelessly to a laptop, tablet or mobile device, on which users can view and organize the data, compare results over time and set goals to be completed. While the device would be useful for professional players and coaches looking for detailed analytics about performance, amateurs will also be able to use the Play & Connect to improve their game. With the device looking to be ready for market in 2013, players will be able to view their statistics and then upload them onto social networks to share results with friends or compare with other users.
APIs for products? (Re-)design as a platform!
In this new and connected world, organizations are required to get into a platform-mindset and approach their business and products like developers have done in the past with APIs. To help change their perspective, I’ve created a simplified model to describe organizations, products or services as a platform.
An important observation in this model is that the design of a platform should be initiated from the inside-out, starting with the definition of a goal/purpose and embedding this at the very core of the platform. This core then becomes the strategic heart of the entire platform. However, from a user perspective, the platform is predominantly used and experienced from the outside-in, at points where you have little or no control. This requires a design that is controlled at the core, yet more flexible towards the edges.
A multi-disciplinary approach
Bridging this gap from the core to the edges means aligning all the different elements of the platform, ensuring the platform’s purpose is always in sync with the added value it provides for users. Or put differently: to ensure that using the platform (in any way) will always support the goal set at its core. Doing so requires multi-disciplinary thinking that combines technology, business, design and marketing to create value far beyond the physical characteristics of the product. To integrate communication and allow flexible use. To create an enabler of activities. To build a platform.
Because in today’s connected world it’s no longer enough to create products.
You need to create platforms.