July 23rd, 2014

Paper or Plastic? Changing Paradigms & How Service Providers Can Thrive in the App Economy

Paper or PlasticPaper or plastic? It used to be a question that was a source of discussion, debate and dilemma for grocery shoppers. In a relatively short time, at least where I live, that question simply went away. For me and most folks I see at the market now, the small fee for disposable bags had a big impact on behavior. Now, it’s a matter of getting into the habit of bringing reusable bags along. For manufacturers of disposable bags, whether paper or plastic, the world changed pretty quickly.

For service providers, I’d argue a similarly fast and fundamental change is taking place, one that’s best described as “the application economy”. If you’re working for a service provider that’s still focusing on the questions of a few years ago, there’s a good chance you’re not going to be providing answers that are relevant to your customers.

Today, applications sit at the confluence of some pretty major trends – mobility, cloud and social, for starters – and these applications are becoming increasingly vital, from a strategic point of view. The quality, innovation and value that get realized through applications will play an increasingly central role in the trajectory of a business and ultimately whether there’s any future at all for that organization. While this is true in enterprises, the stakes may be even higher for service providers.

In the application economy – and our emerging world of crowdsourcing, cloud, DevOps and wearables – what role will the service provider play? I’d argue that having a well-conceived, compelling answer to that question is one of the most vital challenges confronting service providers right now.

Whether you’re working for a telecommunications service provider, managed service provider or cloud service provider, success will hinge on how you adapt to today’s new realities. Deliver services that help your customers thrive in the application economy and your business will thrive. Fail to adapt and you’ll stand to lose business, market share and relevance.

For example, if you work for a telco, the application economy can present a clear fork in the road. One path is the status quo and while mobile traffic is growing more essential, the delivery of that service is increasingly being relegated to the status of plumbing and becoming highly commoditized. The other approach is to build on your unique advantages – to deliver the APIs and integrations that put your organization at the center of application innovation.

More and more, the best way to deliver value to customers is through applications. Harness the innovations of application developers to bring value-added services to customers. Publish the APIs that enable not only internal teams but also a range of external developers to accelerate application innovation. Further, by using APIs to provide self-service access to your service offerings, your organization can boost both recurring revenues and margins.

The battle to avoid commoditization isn’t solely a challenge for telcos either. Managed service providers and cloud providers will also find themselves in an increasingly tenuous position. If they can’t deliver a compelling application-level value proposition, they will be forced to duke it out on who can offer the lowest prices. To compete, these service providers will need to deliver more value. And applications increasingly represent the lens through which customers see and define value.

If a managed service provider only focuses on a server infrastructure but can’t help customers track the actual end user experience for core business applications, its service value will be limited. For customers, differentiators like application quality, innovation and availability will grow ever more significant. Meet this demand with high-value monitoring services and your business will be well positioned to maximize its growth potential.

For cloud providers, there is a huge opportunity in helping customers get new, higher-quality applications to market – and doing so faster and more cost effectively. Application-focused offerings will empower cloud providers to move up the value chain, become increasingly interconnected with their customers and gain stronger competitive differentiation.

To learn more about the application economy – and the threats and opportunities it presents for service providers – be sure to download the white paper How the Application Economy will Make & Break Service Provider Businesses.

July 17th, 2014

API360 Summit – Washington, DC

API360Since the API Academy was founded two years ago, we have had the pleasure of helping numerous organizations and industry leaders succeed with their API programs. Through this experience, we have learned at least as much as we have taught – and we recognize that continuing this collaboration is vital to furthering the field of API strategy and design. Also in this time, we have observed a growing recognition that a holistic approach to APIs is needed in order to achieve maximum benefit.

With all of this in mind, we are pleased to announce our API360 Summit series. These complimentary one-day summits will bring together industry leaders to examine APIs from every possible perspective: business and innovation; architecture and design; applications and trends. Most importantly, these events will provide attendees with up-to-date, actionable information they can start using as soon as they walk out the door at the end of the day.

Our first API360 Summit will take place on September 12 at the Newseum in Washington, DC. We will be featuring a range of speakers with first-hand experience of how APIs are impacting organizations across the public and private sectors. There will also be panel sessions examining pertinent topics like using APIs in open government and exposing APIs to external developers. And there will be plenty of opportunities for interaction and discussion.

For more information and free registration please visit the API360 site.

July 16th, 2014

The Maker Manifesto

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The Maker ManifestoOne of the few perks of having to travel for work is the opportunity to read books (remember those?), from cover to cover, in one go. I recently had the chance to read The Maker Manifesto by Mark Hatch, the CEO of TechShop. It is one of those rare books that make you want to jump up and start “making” something (which isn’t very practical when you happen to be on an airplane, I admit). But I will talk about this more in a minute.

I’ve been struggling lately with the overbearing Internet of Things (IoT) coverage and hype. All the ingenuity and potential seems to becoming increasingly directed towards creating yet another platform for advertising. Most if not all IoT presentations start out by citing the same one or two studies talking about billions of devices and trillions of dollars just beyond the horizon (I call it the x+1 syndrome – it is always one year out). This is usually followed by promises about how this or that gadget/protocol/framework/alliance is going to liberate us from our earthly burdens like switching off lights or turning on the coffee maker.

Of course, everything is open to debate but I personally prefer my simple wall-mounted light switch over having to pull out my smart phone and tap on an app.

In these challenging moments it is refreshing to remind myself what has drawn my interest to IoT in the first place. For me, the Internet of Things is simply a term describing a much deeper and more fundamental shift in society. And this shift – or rather the anticipation of this shift – is being called the “Internet of Things” in IT circles, the “Industrial Internet” by GE and the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (aka “Industry 4.0”) in Germany. Meanwhile, The Economist and the previously-mentioned maker movement have been throwing around the term “artisan entrepreneur”.

The common theme across all of these manifestations is that technology is democratizing the way things are made. Maker-centric technologies like 3D printing could vastly increase the number of people who have direct access to the manufacturing process – which could be truly revolutionary.

To catch a glimpse of the future, look no further than Etsy, which has made a billion-dollar-plus business from selling individually-made crafts. And for what it’s worth, Etsy’s engineering blog is one of the finest – I love their mantra “Code as Craft”.

This brings me back to The Maker Manifesto. While Mark Hatch is coming at it from a maker perspective, someone could (and maybe should) have written a very similar book from a software perspective. Cloud IT, HTML5, Javascript, Node.js, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, GitHub – these are the tools for the coming “software maker” revolution. Both books would meet where our ability to create, to make is only limited by our imagination – and where individuals will be able to provide viable alternatives to industrial-scale production. It is my conviction that the Internet of Things describes the “place” where both software and hardware makers will meet. Having skills in both areas will become key to unlocking IoT’s potential.

It’s worth noting here that Hatch points to an emerging type of company that is built on software but reliant on a physical delivery platform. This is particularly prominent in the “sharing economy” created by companies like Uber, Airbnb and Getaround. It is a demonstration of how combining software with physical things like spare rooms and idle cars can be hugely disruptive to the way real-world products and services are delivered.

You might wonder where APIs are in all this. Well, just as cloud computing commoditized access to compute and storage resources, APIs are democratizing access to all manner of data and application functionality. Organizations across the private and public sectors are using APIs to open their information assets for use by external developers. In turn, these developers are creating apps that make previously siloed corporate information assets available to a vast number and variety of people.

As new hardware and software technologies combine with IoT and the good-old-fashioned physical world, APIs will be the glue that holds everything together. And – of course – API Management technology will be there to make sure it all happens securely and efficiently.

July 15th, 2014

Beyond the CMS

NPR BuildingOn April 22, 2011, I was in Washington, DC, preparing to start my new job at NPR. At that point in my life, this was pretty much my dream job, so I was very excited and a little nervous. I did a lot of thinking that night and the conclusions I came to eventually became the basis of NPR’s technology strategy. I recently had a chance to share my thoughts from that night as part of a talk at the Integrated Media Association’s iMA 2014 conference. Here are the edited highlights.

The basic premise I started from was that all content management systems are fundamentally broken. This may sound a little harsh but I feel able to say it because I’m part of the problem – I’ve built content management systems for organizations across the public and private sectors, so I’m pretty well placed to tell you that no available CMS platform is architected for what publishers – particularly news outlets – truly need.

Most content management systems were designed years ago, for a much simpler world. We now live in an incredibly fragmented and complex world. Any piece of content tends to be sourced from a variety of places and published across a range of old and new media channels. Throughout this complex process, everything has to work seamlessly. The margin for error during breaking news or major events is pretty much zero.

In this context, what do publishers actually need from a CMS? They need:

  • An easy way to connect with many news sources
  • The ability to push content across a variety of channels
  • Guaranteed availability and scalability

So, how do we build a CMS that actually addresses these needs? To my mind, the solution has three key components. First and foremost, the whole architectural approach must be based on APIs. Second, it must specifically use hypermedia APIs and finally, the APIs must be what I’ve been calling “linked APIs”.

1. APIs First
APIs represent the only universal way to connect anything on the Web to any other online thing. Unfortunately, since we started the Web in a desktop-centric world, APIs were an afterthought. Historically, we used to build a Web site and then maybe also add an API, as a window into our content.

This is the wrong approach. Your Web site is just one of the destinations for your content. Increasingly, it’s not even the most important one, since mobile viewership is clearly on the rise. Don’t treat your Web site as special. All your content and functionality should be put into and delivered through APIs.

 2. Hypermedia
Publishers need things to just work. They don’t care about the technical details; they just can’t have their services go down at any time – so, scalability is paramount. And how do you ensure scalability? As I’ve pointed out before, the most scalable network ever created is the World Wide Web and the secret to the Web’s scalability is hypermedia.

Hypermedia is any type of content that not only carries data but also links to other documents. The hypermedia type that is most fundamental to the Web – and certainly the one we are most familiar with – is HTML. However, HTML was designed for human-centric Web sites, not for exchanging structured content via APIs.

There are, however, other hypermedia types that were designed for this very purpose. As a matter of fact, I was involved in the creation of a very robust one called Collection.Document, which was designed specifically for media organizations.

3. Linked APIs
Leveraging hypermedia as an integral part of interface design allows us to create “linked APIs”. Most current APIs are, at best, creating narrow windows into the solid walls of data silos. Even the most high-profile API will typically only provide access to a single corporate database. Hypermedia allows us to create links between these databases.

This will prove essential to the next generation of content management systems because linked APIs have the potential to give content publishers the freedom they want to seamlessly integrate content from diverse sources and push it across the full spectrum of online channels. As such, they could even come to represent the engine that drives press freedom into the coming decades. So, let’s get that engine cranking!