The APIs we live by

17 December 2013 | Dr Judy Reed Smith

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Dr Judy Reed Smith

Blog Author | ATLANTIC-ACM; CEO


Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) lay out how software components can work together. They’re becoming so important that some companies are now generating more revenue from APIs than from their own sites or “core” revenue sources and API strategies have become central components in business development and competitive positioning for firms digital and brick-and-mortar.

At AT&T’s fall analyst conference, Randall Stephenson announced that AT&T was becoming a software company. This certainly made the more than 2,500 companies listed as US-based API developers very happy. And clearly AT&T is not alone in its direction. To quote a 2011 Forbes article, “Now Every Company is a Software Company.”

So what is the value of APIs for our telecoms networks, and, do we all need to find developers? For some players, the jury’s out. At another analyst conference, one carrier professed that it doesn’t need APIs and another major carrier claimed at a third conference that an internal division was just beginning to investigate them.

If APIs are new to you, these Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) lay out how software components can work together, often driven around access to databases. They’re becoming so important that some companies are now generating more revenue from APIs than from their own sites or “core” revenue sources and API strategies have become central components in business development and competitive positioning for firms digital (e.g., salesforce.com) and brick-and-mortar (Walgreens). In the telecoms space, APIs not only represent more bandwidth-consuming services and connection points in support of industry, they provide new avenues to sales and operations efficiency improvements within our space as well.

In one example, Level 3 Connect provides an integrated interface between a customer’s environment and Level 3’s carrier services. Thus, the API allows client development to move more rapidly and leverages web programming technologies to allow access from Level 3’s service layer to the end user’s choice of application.

AT&T has created similar API support for wholesale buyers in its channel and one can easily imagine the hours saved and sales made with this ease. Companies like Twilio, Nexmo and Plivo are also providing interesting solutions driven by telecoms APIs. For cloud platforms, storage platforms and the like, Amazon Web Services offers many opportunities for computing network control. Bandwidth.com provides APIs to wholesale customers to increase ease of ordering, network management, and all aspects of connection to the carrier.

These interesting offerings go on and on with exciting stories of innovation and of time and money saved. The odds are that you’ve heard of many of them in some form or another, even if you weren’t sure of the underlying architecture making them happen. With these interfaces and methods of connecting data to services, the only limits to new services are the imaginations of entrepreneurs and skills of programmers.

If you’re reading these examples and thinking there is plenty of reason for carriers to pursue API development for competitive reasons alone, you’re right. In recent Report Card research on customer opinions and provider performance ratings, my firm asked for the first time how important “ease of doing business” is in purchasing decisions. It should come as no surprise that it zoomed to the top of customer importance ratings, sliding in just below the consistent wholesale winners network quality and price.

All of this brings us back to the question of APIs and their value in the telecoms space. Are they important? Only if you want to compete.