Apigee brings API religion to unlocking business value

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett October 13, 2015
Summary:
All aboard Apigee's API train. It's leaving now and will carry the future of business with it.

Apigee Keynote Panel
I Love APIs, Apigee's annual technical and customer conference is an unusual experience. Part business message, part technical deep dive, it is clear that the attendees really do buy into the message of massively scalable APIs as the gateways to delivering improved performance outcomes.

How else do you explain the CEO getting a rapturous applause as he leaves the stage only to come back moments later and encore with an unscripted, unrehearsed but largely softball Q&A to happy customers and partners? Or how about the fintech round table where the featured speaker is from Visa, and clearly wrestling with an API strategy that is NOT backed by Apigee?

You sure as heck wouldn't get any of that at a mega vendor event but then the world of APIs is Wild West territory with plenty to play for.

Chet Kapoor, CEP Apigee's keynote hit all the right buzzwords and analyst loving expressions (digital transformation, customer engagement, two speed enterprise etc etc) but I wasn't entirely convinced the audience was able to connect all the dots.

I found myself going 'Hmm' the most when Kapoor argued that mediating the so-called two speed enterprise, where there is the relatively mature and slow moving backbone on one side and the high speed digital 'stuff' on the other via a murky customer engagement layer stuck in the middle didn't quite work for me. I get that what Kapoor was trying to say is we need to extract data from both elements (via APIs of course rather than manual processes) but the imagery wasn't carrying it off.

The simple '3 C's - Culture, Community and Code argument resonated well but I suspect this is early in the cycle of understanding for most people. I'll concentrate on the first two, the third being self evident.

Culture

The cultural shift is clearly an angst driven topic. Organizations have to find ways to connect operational IT with technology focused IT but the issues, while well understood were neither well articulated nor did the panel provide clear examples of how it is working. James Fairweather,  SVP technology and commerce at Pitney Bowes said:

"Employee development is key for digital culture- create an interconnected intelligent workforce"

Aaaah - yes, but exactly how do you get there? Brad Peterson, EVP and CIO NASDAQ got closest to laying out the circumstances under which they transitioned. Peterson described the point at which NASDAQ as an organization recognized it had become too closely aligned to quasi-government style organizations, which was preventing it from utilizing its digital assets (and heritage) to optimize revenue opportunities. NASDAQ was also seeing existential threats to which it could not respond as a software business.

It was at this point that I wanted someone to state the obvious: if you're not one of that very small number of businesses that is able to twist and shift culture through innovation then the only sure fire route is pain, coupled by clear and present danger. We have seen this time and again. However, as pointed out in one session that I sat in on, speaker after speaker said much the same thing: How do you get organizations to change when they are staring at a healthy balance sheet? It's hard.

The most interesting set of comments though came from Mike Sutcliffe, group CEO Accenture Digital. Although he didn't have much time to articulate his 'me and we' thought stream, we have dived deep into this with him in the recent past:

Visionary companies are recognizing that as every business becomes a digital business, together they can effect change on a much bigger stage.

An Accenture Aside

Speaking of Accenture, this is the umpteenth gig on the trot that they have been represented on stage as important partners in the digital transformation business. Last week they were at AWS re: Invent, the week or so before it was Dreamforce. Now it is ILoveApis. Next week, no doubt, they will stick their heads up at SAP TechEd and the week after that? Oracle OpenWorld.

Accenture isn't just making a splash, they talk the talk, something I discovered in a side meeting with one of their business strategists who doubles up as customer advisory technical lead. Their presence, delivery and content depth are world class. Plus, they are willing to talk with businesses of all kinds. That's a very different Accenture to the one with which many readers might be familiar.

Here's the point. If Accenture is leading in the SI/consulting space then you can be darned sure they're gaining a phenomenal amount of experience along the way. That means they have an opportunity to put huge distance between themselves and the competition and thus become the de facto leader in the digital transformation space. Deloitte, PwC, KPMG plus the Indian outsourcers will all follow suit but unless they ratchet their games, Accenture is going to walk away with this market to itself.

Community

Community is another area where the messaging was fuzzy. My sense is that companies who are embarking on the open API journey kind of get the they need to foster developer communities but I am not convinced that many of them have truly understood what this means. It is true that some industries like financial services, healthcare and education are heavily regulated but that need not be an excuse for being overly selective.

Community is a topic that both Jon Reed and I care deeply about, having both been heavily involved in the SAP Mentor community. We know, as do many developer organizations, that developers love the idea of a strong community because to allows them to learn and share.

When you take that concept to an end user organization that is trying to transform itself into a software services business, many 'ah-buts' emerge, with the company falling back on the large SIs as proxies for community. I believe that is the wrong approach because traditionally, the SIs have not good at the kind of sharing that needs to happen in an API driven world. My advice is to tap into communities like those at SAP, Intel and Oracle to learn how they operate.

My take

For all my criticism of the opening day of iLove APIs, it is hard to be over critical. It is after all, early in the game of APIs as the gateway to change.

I heard some really good stories (more about which later) and the halls were packed with people who are genuinely interested in what APIs can bring to the business.

The conversations were lively yet thoughtful, encouraging yet quizzical. That's a magical combination when you're at the beginning of a journey and for that Apigee deserves full credit for facilitating those activities and delivering the content in both a novel and engaging way.