Almost overnight, it seems, our lives came to revolve around social networks: We scan our Facebook feeds for updates from our families and relevant news, use Twitter to follow friends and celebrities, and pin the latest fashions or home-improvement ideas via Pinterest. Behind it all is the desire to drive engagement, to stay connected with people, brands and trends.
If engagement is fueled by people, then the fossil fuel of the next generation is the API — Application Programming Interface. Without APIs, none of these new engagement models would have become the most critical new business growth tool we have seen since the television revolutionized the living room and advertising.
So, what are APIs? For many of us, the first exposure to the influence of APIs has been via mobile phones and the explosion of apps. The majority of mobile apps today are a combination of user interface, tactile interaction, integration with device features, and data delivered and consumed via APIs. By the very nature of mobility afforded to such devices and the ability to connect geolocation to marketing opportunities, APIs have created a bridge to customer habits, and have become part of their daily conversations.
Mobile is simply the beginning of an entire new generation of businesses built around the customer. A recent report from Cisco stated that by the end of 2014 there will more mobile-connected devices than there are people on earth. Not all of these devices will be mobile phones, however many will be wearable devices like Fitbit band, connected cars like Tesla, and connected homes, as we see through products such as Nest.
Each of these devices, powered by APIs, are giving organizations greater visibility into their customers, which is allowing them to connect in whole new ways. Before long, a typical visit to the doctor will begin by downloading your activity monitor at home, rather than completing paperwork while sitting in cramped waiting rooms struggling to remember your exercise and dietary habits.
We could discuss the importance of RESTful for mobile services, streaming and bulk APIs for efficient data access and OAuth for authentication, but the true API imperative for businesses is how to become a high-growth company in this emerging API economy. The simple answer is Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Consider Apple, Facebook and Salesforce.com, just to begin with. Each one of these companies is a PaaS provider — they offer everything organizations need to build their business based on services provided: Apple offers an easy way to instantly buy music and apps; Facebook has the social graph; and Salesforce.com provides the tools for any user to build social, mobile and next-generation enterprise apps. However, each of these companies also provides access to the data and insights created through these transactions via APIs.
Geoffrey Moore, in his book, “Crossing the Chasm,” coined the phase “core vs. context.” APIs are platform companies’ core business, but for the majority of businesses it is contextual; they are not in the business of building APIs. Successful businesses of tomorrow need to focus on business growth and customer engagement and utilize platform companies to provide APIs in order to fuel this growth and deeper relationships with customers.
Platforms must also make API consumption — and the data collected through APIs — easy. Often this ease of use translates to organizations building mobile apps for employees and customers quickly and without the need for specialized resources, or integrating with existing systems. Where developers are tasked with building custom apps, APIs must be accessible using the latest languages and technologies. Developer productivity is a fundamental goal of organizations. Without it, apps, the conduit of APIs, and the collection of critical customer and business data may fail due to poor user adoption, bad customer experience, or costly and delayed development cycles. Regardless of the cause, the symptom is the same — lack of visibility and customer engagement.
Business users consume APIs differently. APIs can enable businesses to improve organic sales growth and reach new audiences. Businesses need powerful data analysis tools such as dashboards, reports and insights to improve engagement. Twitter, for example, provides Twitter cards to help provide insights on how a company’s products are being shared. Leading platforms support business growth by eliminating ad-hoc tools like spreadsheets and local databases.
At Salesforce.com, APIs have been a core aspect of our platform for more than 10 years. Our customers perform more than a billion transactions a day via our platform, with more than 50 percent of these coming via the API. Yet the majority of them never consider that they are growing their business because of these APIs. And that’s the true test of any platform provider. We are not here to power data. We are here to power our customers and their customers’ success.
The true business imperative of APIs is how an Internet of Customers will drive the business models of tomorrow’s global brands. Without APIs to create this customer connection as that fundamental fossil fuel of business growth, organizations will fundamentally fail to adapt to the world of tomorrow.
Quinton Wall is director of technical platform marketing for Salesforce.com. Reach him @quintonwall.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.