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Businesses worldwide are expected to spend well over $1 trillion this year on digital transformation, and more than twice that amount by 2025. It’s not just digitizing brick-and-mortar and analog processes these days but adopting cloud native architecture and microservices. None of it comes cheap, and it has definitely never been easy, but it is necessary for any business looking to thrive in today’s global and volatile market.
Where some tech-focused organizations are leading the charge, others — for example, the healthcare industry and government agencies — are still lagging in digital transformation.
Companies’ adoption of new technologies went into overdrive in the past two years as public health guidelines forced businesses to find new ways to buy, sell, and interact with customers and colleagues. But the digitization of major industries began years before. As consumer preferences and expectations changed, a company like Spotify, for example, was able to disrupt the old model of delivering music, leaving hundreds of radio stations scrambling to remain relevant. Airbnb used software to change the hospitality industry, and Uber’s technology forever changed the transportation business.
We are in another period of fundamental change, one where technology is enabling brand-new business models and making older ones obsolete. In response, companies need to adapt and put technology at the forefront so they can stay competitive and grow. Software can no longer be treated as an afterthought. Whatever line of work you are in, if you have an eye toward the future, it’s time to start thinking of yourself as a software company.
Today, technology is just as important to a retailer or a restaurant chain as it is to a software company. All businesses need to be prioritizing digital transformation and even though the software may not be a physical, tangible project, companies need to invest in their tech like they would any other product.
One way to do so is by investing in an Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are a powerful tool that can keep businesses nimble. In short, APIs are what link a company’s digital infrastructure, enabling them to share information with customers, partners and internally. APIs open businesses up to additional value through the automated exchange of information and services with others that can enrich experiences, add products and even new lines of business. If companies prioritize APIs within their technology tool stacks, it can shift the way they do business, allowing even small to mid-sized companies to stay competitive and adaptable.
With APIs, new integrations that enable new experiences and value to customers — which will only grow more important as time goes on — can be added without additional time or cost. They can even help streamline internal processes.
By embracing APIs, the laggards in digital transformation could better serve people by gaining increased flexibility and responsiveness, both things they struggle with today.
Shifting focus to APIs as a new and separate discipline helps expand digital offerings, allowing businesses to easily adapt and emerge as winners just as Spotify has. They will no longer fret if one software system can’t play nice with another system in the schoolyard. APIs are like the teacher who will make them get along.
The important thing for any company is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current technology assets and then work on a strategy that is cohesive and works alongside all relevant departments from IT to business strategy. The strategy concerning software architecture should become a focal point in your company’s digital evolution, and should not be siloed from the work and planning taking place in other departments. It must sit alongside the other elements of your company’s roadmap.
Take a design-first approach to your software integration strategy
In developing the strategy, start by prioritizing APIs before software. Then turn one traditional concept on its head: Instead of being “code first,” or beginning API creation with the required coding, try a design-first approach. This means making a comprehensive plan for what is being built before a line of code is written. This allows for better developer experience, increased consistency, cost savings, and even enhanced security. Think of the relationship between a blueprint and a finished building, and you can see how constructing something great begins with design and not with laying the bricks.
Humans and computers alike need to be able to understand and interact with the API, and its design will inform the creation of every digital tool created by your company moving forward.
To get the maximum value, involve every team at your company in the development of an API, from your developers to your security team and even your executives (executive buy-in for your API program is key!). Even the least tech-savvy people will have concerns and ideas that must be considered before the coding work begins. When the full team understands and appreciates the API, so will business partners and customers.
Create the API so it will offer maximum benefit to every stakeholder in your business because long gone are the days when only tech giants and software innovators are “API companies.” Today, over 83% of all web traffic comes from some form of API and 90% of developers use APIs. If your business needs to reach a digital audience for any reason or with any regularity, become an API company. If you want to be successful and remain competitive in this hyper-digital age, you need to consider yourself an API company and adopt the appropriate strategy.
APIs are proliferating, and any company still thinking of them as an afterthought is at risk of being left behind. Those who embrace them will be able to stay adaptable, expand their technology offerings, and will no longer fear the future, but help to shape it.
Steve Rodda is CEO of Stoplight.