While the digital transformation will be different in each industry and at each company, one thing will be common: the entire digital supply chain will be glued together using APIs. Skills like mastering the power of APIs will decide which side of the digital divide businesses find themselves.
From wearable computers to autonomous drones, the ways in which we experience the world are changing fast: driven by advances in mobile, social and digital technologies. As a result, software is beginning to touch virtually every interaction and transaction imaginable, impacting people, organisations, and everyday objects helping to create a new world of digital identities every bit as rich as the physical one.
Take smartphones, which have essentially turned their owners into digitally augmented versions of themselves - able to catalogue and quantify actions throughout the day as well as access, create, and share an astonishing array of information. Then there are everyday objects - TVs, cars, refrigerators, electricity meters - which have become software-enabled and added to the data today’s hyper-connected consumers have at their fingertips.
Such developments are creating an emergence of a new digital divide within the enterprise. On the one hand are those organisations that are well-adapted to this connected world and are already creating opportunities within it; on the other, there are those that have yet to gain a foothold.
Making yourself understood
Businesses that have found themselves on the right side of the new digital divide have one thing in common: they understand the fundamental importance of software to the connected world. They also understand that enterprise systems need to change if they are to be fit for purpose in our software-defined age.
Software comes in many shapes and sizes. It is used for a huge variety of purposes and can be coded in a variety of languages. Businesses wishing to fully exploit the digital world therefore need to ensure that their systems are ‘multilingual’ (i.e. that their software can ‘speak’ to third party software).
This is where Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) prove their worth. APIs sit between enterprise software and the third-party software, allowing the two to interact. APIs in effect provide the glue that binds connected people and devices together enabling enterprises to add their own digital identities to the online world in a way that is intelligible to others.
Bridging the digital divide
Organisations that are serious about transforming into true ‘Digital Enterprises’ (i.e. businesses that are fit for our digital future) therefore need to look at deploying an API tier across their systems. This tier will allow them to unify all of their disparate end-points and clients; allowing everything from web browsers to mobile smartphones, tablets and wearable devices to integrate seamlessly with the organisation.
APIs are critical to creating the new, digital supply chains that are essential for engaging and retaining today’s hyper-connected customers, the very same customers that demand a better user experience across a range of access channels and on a 24/7 basis.
Building a community
An API tier is not however a magic panacea for the digital world. It requires real work and commitment on the part of the business if it is to deliver on its promise. In particular, the business must be committed to creating a flourishing ecosystem around the APIs it uses. If a business creates a series of services based on certain APIs which no-one else develops for, their usefulness will be highly restricted.
The Digital Enterprise will therefore look to create an API directory, including apps that have been built using those APIs and simple documentation on those usages. This will help developers get ideas on implementing and using the enterprise APIs and thereby encourage their use. As with so many things, when it comes to APIs, ease of use is the key to success.
Security is fundamental
With this community in place, all that remains is to protect the business from the security threats inherent in opening up to the online world. In the Digital Enterprise there are a wide variety of access points - mobile, online, wearable, and social, etc. - this is what makes it so appealing to the hyper-connected consumer. It also however, means that there are a greater number of attack vectors that cyber-criminals could choose to use.
Security is therefore hugely important.
In meeting this challenge, identity management will be crucial. Businesses need to make sure that anybody accessing their systems has the right to do so. Integration with existing identity and access management systems will help enforce uniform user access policies across the network and, in addition to basic authorisation and authentication, will allow administrators to enforce API subscription approval and expiration policies. This is in essence a security layer that helps the business protect itself at the point of interaction with the wider digital world.
APIs: The glue of the digital supply chain
The digital transformation will be different in each industry and at each company, but one thing will be common: the entire digital supply chain will be glued together using APIs. The winners in this world of digital transformation will be master orchestrators of services; connecting consumers to the business in all manner of innovative ways. They will also be able to unlock the energy of their own people by allowing them to create and solve problems on their own and will be adept at moving data to where it is needed, as it is needed. The one skill common to all of these competencies is mastering the power of APIs - a skill that will decide which side of the digital divide businesses find themselves.
Posted by Manish Mehrotra, Senior Principal, Digital and Integration Services, Infosys