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The API ecosystem: What IT leaders need to know

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio)

These days, to compete in the digital age, enterprises of all sizes need scalable, flexible IT systems so that they can experiment and innovate at a more rapid pace. In industries across the board, APIs are reframing the way we do business and unlocking new opportunities by delivering the immediate, personalised, omnichannel experience customers want and increasingly demand.

The importance of APIs in the modern world

APIs are changing the way businesses interact with customers, making it possible to streamline and simplify every step of the customer journey. Without APIs, businesses are hard-pressed to create the on-demand, convenient digital experiences we expect every day as consumers. APIs do the heavy lifting—humming along in the background as consumers, with just a few taps or clicks, order food, book a service or hotel stay, and hail a rideshare. Examples include the Google Maps API, which lets developers embed maps and bring Street View imagery and 360° views to users, to the Skyscanner API, which enables users to compare the best prices for flights, to Amazon’s Fulfillment API, which keeps users up-to-date on the availability of inventory, to the APIs at Yelp, which help developers provide a search experience to help people find great food nearby, to MessageBird, which offers a suite of cloud communications APIs, that enable businesses to interact with customers in every corner of the world.

APIs act like a messenger, shuttling back-and-forth between applications, databases, and devices—driving information-rich experiences for consumers. Think about an API as a waiter in a restaurant, with your menu as the interface. The API takes your order at the table in the front, brings it to the back where the food is prepared, and then returns with the food you ordered. APIs also enable businesses to expand into markets quicker than ever before.

Why IT leaders should be aware of APIs

According to Forrester, companies are expected to spend $3 billion on API management by 2020. And that’s money well spent. Investing in an API strategy pays off in spades because it saves developers time and businesses money. In this age of digital transformation, businesses today need to be able to pivot quickly to respond to customer needs and changes in the competitive landscape. APIs are agile enough to make it easy for developers to integrate new components into existing infrastructure, ensuring they can develop and deploy services quickly.

Leveraging APIs has the potential to free up internal resources to focus on the more differentiated areas of your business. Case-in-point: billing services. Everyone needs them, but not everyone needs to build their own. So, oftentimes, businesses turn to a billing API instead. Or, take telecommunications, for instance. Real-time communication with customers is crucial, especially for on-demand companies like our customer, Uber, where notifications, alerts, and messages sent between drivers and customers need to happen in real-time. But, wrangling those immediate interactions, particularly across borders, is fragmented, complex, and time-consuming. Turning to MessageBird APIs streamlines and simplifies all of that complexity, allowing Uber to focus on the innovative technology that will push the business forward, instead of worrying about managing communications in all the areas where they operate.

What IT leaders should know about APIs

As the connective thread that links modern and legacy systems, APIs play a crucial role in making IT systems more responsive and adaptable—allowing IT leaders to unlock more value from their platforms faster and at less cost. Instead of adding APIs into the mix ad hoc, IT leaders should build out a thoughtful, customer-centric API strategy to integrate API-driven culture into software development practices and processes. A successful API-first strategy hinges on IT leaders’ ability to understand customer behaviour so that companies can deliver rich customer experiences. When determining which APIs to build, start with the customer journey. Then, build out APIs to drive efficiency.

The future of APIs

The business of cloud communications APIs is booming, with IDC projecting enterprise spend on CPaaS (cloud communications platforms as a service) alone growing from $2 billion in 2017 to $10.9 billion in 2022. Going forward, successful CPaaS providers will be those who enable developers and enterprises alike to develop sophisticated communications flows and innovative customer experiences whether it’s in logistics, marketing, call centre functionality or security solutions such as two-factor authentication. The biggest trend in this market is the rise of the omnichannel customer experience. In fact, according to a Mulesoft survey, 60 per cent of customers will leave for a competitor if they don’t get the immediate, personalised omnichannel experience they’re after. 

APIs transform the customer experience by changing the way customers are able to interact with businesses. APIs empower customers to communicate with businesses in the same way they communicate with their family and friends—seamlessly, on their own timeline and with the context of previous conversations, via the channels they prefer, whether it’s SMS, email, or messaging apps like WeChat and WhatsApp. For consumers, it provides a convenient way to handle issues and inquiries, without interrupting their busy lives. For businesses, customer interactions are unified and streamlined into a single thread delivered straight into their CRM—creating rich customer profiles.

For example, UK-based DrDoctor, which uses our SMS API to reach hundreds of thousands of patients anytime, anywhere via text reminders and alerts—saving each of its NHS hospital partners £1-3 million per year, as well as a 50 per cent decrease in phone calls and a 40 per cent reduction in no-shows. Or, online e-ticket marketplace TicketSwap, which uses our SMS API and now our Email API to alert users when tickets are sold, when money is on its way, and also when there are unexpected changes to scheduled events.

Harnessing agile, accessible APIs enables brands to move the needle with current customers while providing the flexibility to handle rapidly changing customer expectations. APIs power a future without friction by helping businesses create communications experiences that enhance brand loyalty.

Brendan Bank, CTO, MessageBird