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How to think about APIs for your Industry
By Kenneth Tabor, Principal Software Engineer, Sabre Corporation
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are digital tools enabling software developers to more quickly build their applications. Any company that’s a recognized expert in some capability has an opportunity to create APIs around their superpower. Possessing rich content, running data processing, and fostering a unique marketplace are capabilities for making APIs.
If enough companies in an industry are supplying APIs it looks and feels as though that industry is programmable. In other words, software developers can consume APIs from a number of providers to create an original user experience (UX). Sometimes developers deliver a better UX than any particular API supplier could.
At this point I’m comfortable saying that the travel industry is highly programmable. Several companies provide APIs abstracting away the complicated details of searching and buying global travel content. Other APIs coordinate lists of activities “beneath the covers” in an orchestrated manner. Abstractions and orchestrations make it easier for software developers to consume APIs without forcing them to become experts in the industry.
Is your industry programmable? If not, consider leading it through a digital transformation to supply APIs. Helping drive innovation will generate more opportunities and provide chances to capture some of the value. Producing a portfolio of APIs - and treating them like products - will help you grow your business by finding new customers - developers.
Travel Didn’t Begin API-First
The travel industry wasn’t always programmable. It simply wasn’t the goal when it started getting off the ground. Historically, travel has been relatively complex, carefully curated, and often closed. What changed?
The market demanded evolution.
Third-party developers wanted to innovate on the travel experience. They discovered pain-points and unmet needs of users. Then they figured out ways to deliver helpful tools. My industry consists of end users who are travelers, travel advisors, and companies supplying inventory to the travel ecosystem.
A lesson learned is creating APIs and partnering with software solution providers. If your company is a recognized expert at doing something great, there will be developers who want to do that thing in their software application. For example, shopping and booking flights.
The collective goal for making the travel industry programmable through APIs is improving the state of the world for people. Traveling is a key part of personal and professional life. It has a different look and feel for everyone involved. A fantastic user experience leveraging APIs takes away the fear, worry, and doubt of planning a trip while comfortably arriving at a destination on time.
If your industry is already programmable, think of ways to improve it. Make highly capable APIs that abstract away the details of legacy requirements
• Traditional brick-and-mortar travel agencies.
• Online travel agencies working through websites.
• Corporations that have their own internal travel departments.
• Start-ups seeking to disrupt the incumbents.
Each type of API consumer has the potential of using the same APIs as others do, but in a slightly different manner. It’s worth studying how customer types work with your APIs. Personalize the way you support them through their journey of discovering your API portfolio.
Managing APIs Like Utilities
I look at the business world through my lens of being a software architect. APIs are a fascinating topic for a tech enthusiast. There’s simply so much to learn, so many problems to solve, and so many discoveries to share with others. How do I help my non-technical colleagues relate to highly technical concepts?
I explain by analogy.
I compare something new to something they already know. For me, for this case of APIs, I relate them to home utilities: water, gas, and electricity. Think of the reporting abilities that a utility connected to your home has, and how it’s managed. APIs need similar management.
Concretely, we can’t just build APIs and “launch them into production.” We wouldn’t know who is using them, how often each API is called, and who to bill. Reporting is a key part of API management. Architectural abilities of API management include:
• Self-service. Can you acquire a new customer by letting them sign-up, sign-in, and create an application to get a private client key for accessing your APIs - instantly and on their own?
• Security. Do you restrict access to your APIs through an authentication process?
• Reporting. Are there ways to measure which of your APIs are called? By which customers? By the various applications those customers have?
• Limiting. What’s the upper limit of API requests that customers are allowed? Restricting the rate of calls could happen by the second, hour, or day.
• Errors. Knowing request success rates is useful when you find a customer application that is failing above some threshold. Proactively support them with helpful training.
You could build your own API management system, but should you? Decide wisely when it comes to build versus buy. Several companies specializing in API management services exist. Evaluate them because a solid partner will help accelerate your timeline.
Towards a Programmable Industry
If your industry is already programmable,think of ways to improve it. Make highly capable APIs that abstract away the details of legacy requirements. Observe your programmer/customers to learn how they work and what they need.
If your industry isn’t programmable via APIs providers decide if it should be. Use some of the ideas in this article to identify ways of surfacing up your hard-earned expertise, data, and unique processes.
Decide what your company is good at, and who might want an API to be good at doing that too.