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The value of an adaptable platform - APIs and the new business Darwinism

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy Profile picture for user Ajoy.Krishnamoorthy January 4, 2018
Companies without platforms will struggle to compete - says Acumatica's Ajoy Krishnamoorthy. But not all platforms are created equal. The emergence of the Open API initiative provides guidelines and opportunities.

No two businesses are the same.  Each one has unique needs and processes.  While many of the broad and overarching business requirements such as core accounting, payroll, benefits administration, and regulations compliance (to name but a few) are fairly consistent regardless of a company’s size or industry, the true day-to-day business management practices are deeply individual.

A company must operate and innovate in its own ways to achieve market success, maximizing its efficiency and agility along the way.  One key to achieving this is an adaptable technology platform.

A “platform,” of course, is just an assemblage of software components.  But an adaptable platform provides the flexibility for custom-built applications that meet the unique, specific criteria of individual business practices. The best kind of adaptable platform is constructed on services-based (rather than applications-based) principles and architecture, so a set of services can be harnessed together into company-specific workflows.

Again, every business has unique needs and obligations. One may use Office 365 for communications, Avalara for tax calculations, DocuSign or Adobe Sign for e-signatures, and Magento for ecommerce, while the next business relies primarily on Salesforce  to manage its customers and Smartsheet to keep projects on track.  An adaptable platform makes it possible to stitch these services together as needed into a seamless, interoperable workflow or application that adheres to established company processes and priorities.

And in order to do this in a stable and resilient manner, the platform must have APIs.  An interoperable, loosely coupled, and services-based architecture is the core attribute of an adaptable platform, while APIs are its mission-critical add-ons.

APIs enable the platform to connect with the services and capabilities of other, complementary platforms, as well as establishing or changing a business’s core systems and back-office functions.  APIs give developers the ability to have applications or services interact with each other in an easy and standard way. This need for applications to interact together whether it is for accessing data from multiple applications or for leveraging capability of third party services, has driven broad adoption of SOAP APIs and then REST APIs.

The emergence of the Open API specification

This broad adoption then led to the formation of new initiative to drive standard specification.  The Open API initiative, an effort run by a consortium of industry experts, is now focused on creating, evolving and driving the use of a vendor-agnostic API description format. Open API 2.0 specification (formerly known as Swagger specification) is a standard description that makes it easy for humans and machines to understand REST APIs and the capabilities of the service.

Subsequently, API management software controls and manages the array of public and private APIs made available to customers, partners, and employees.  It manages the overall usage of platform APIs, while concurrently handling the inbound API calls from external sources/services and the outbound calls from a business itself.   APIs, clearly, are a critical component of software platforms.

APIs are not a cure-all for the problems of cloud integration. Open standards and API management tools are helpful, but for APIs to be successful, they must be well crafted, containing the proper business logic and field mapping information. A community of developers must be fostered to support APIs usage, and help customers and partners build the connections they need. And vendors must expose their content with enough APIs to make the right connections.

But there’s no question that APIs are a far better solution to cloud integration than laborious, point-to-point interfaces that are subject to breaking or revision with each update from cloud vendors who may not always communicate closely on planned changes. A cloud “platform” without robust API support is simply inadequate.

Perhaps most importantly, an adaptable platform provides the pathways along which new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, and the Internet of Things can be integrated.  Business applications that embrace these technologies will improve, enhance --or even supplant-- the business processes that drive current company success now.

Of course, that scenario will take some time to develop, and today’s much-hyped technologies often become tomorrow’s failures (Segway scooter, anyone?), but the larger point is simply this: a robust and adaptable technology platform is designed for the business needs of today and the future –whatever that may hold.

An adaptable platform lets business partners in an ecosystem collaborate together on processes and transactions. It provides content access from the platform, and inflows of data and algorithms to it.  It enables the broader business and operational analytics that lead to faster insights and better conclusions.  The adaptable platform can accommodate the needs of an entire business ecosystem, connecting it together for specific transactional tasks that maximize efficiency and agility and speed market success.

When surveyed by leading industry analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC, CEOs worldwide consistently name digital platforms and business ecosystems among their top five business initiatives.  It’s an exciting time for CIOs to review their strategic assumptions and projections, as well as for developers of all abilities to sharpen their skills. Adaptable platforms are driving a new spirit of business cooperation and the “democratization of customization.”

There is a rapid pace of innovation happening and these innovations improves a current business process or enables new scenarios that could become your competitive edge. So the ability to embrace these new technologies quickly is going to decide if a company adopts and thrives – or not.

End note: for more on how Acumatica is using APIs and participating in the Open API initiative, see my post, The Connected Cloud: How Acumatica's API Supports a Multicloud World. We’ll also have content on adaptable platforms and APIs at the upcoming Acumatica Summit event.

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