Empowering emerging markets by publicly exposing APIs
Orange is the key brand of France Telecom, one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators. As the number three mobile operator and number two provider of broadband internet services in Europe, as well as a global leader in telecom services for MNC’s, Orange Group's strategy is characterized by a strong focus on innovation and working to develop its position in new growth activities.
One area of growth opportunity lies in API publication. In much the same way that publishing a Web site can expose a local business to a global marketplace, making APIs available online can help drive new partnerships, improve customer satisfaction and build value added services around a brand, all of which can lead to increased revenue opportunities. Orange’s Nursery initiative is aimed at just that – publishing their telecom services, provisioning, management and configuration APIs in order to foster innovation and reduce cost of/time to market for new services.
Orange by the Numbers
- 132.6M mobile customers
- 13.5M internet customers
- Provides consumer services in 32 countries worldwide
- Supports enterprise customers in 166 countries
- #3 mobile provider and #2 broadband provider in Europe
- 2009 Revenue = 50.9B Euros
But the Nursery was originally envisioned as a walled garden, intended for France Telecom’s internal divisions and select partners who have the resources, expertise and technology infrastructure in place to take advantage of such an initiative. Emerging countries, with their under-resourced developer communities and infrastructure limitations (i.e., unreliable power/broadband infrastructure) are not able to easily leverage the full range of functionality offered by the Nursery. For these reasons, Orange created Emerginov.
Emerginov is an innovative Telco platform specifically designed for emerging countries, allowing local partners and public entities to build and host micro-services that citizens can access through the common technology denominator of mobile phones. The approach is novel, but the thinking is sound: by combining the power of their global telecom infrastructure with the know-how of the local populace Orange can overcome emerging country limitations to create telecom solutions that address local needs.
In practice, Emerginov offers an open source platform for development (based on software like Apache, MySQL, JOnAS, PHP, Mobicents, Asterisk or OpenSIPS etc), as well as online disk storage for hosted applications, services and associated data –all of which gives local developers the tools and resources they need to take full advantage of the Nursery. Through Emerginov, local partners and select public entities (such as universities) gain access to the range of telecom services offered by the Nursery, including IVRs, SMS systems, VOIP infrastructure, Text to Speech engines, etc. In this way, Emerginov allows local stakeholders to create practical services with just a few lines of code, without needing to set up and maintain their own systems.
But publicly exposing APIs presents some unique challenges around how they get packaged, secured and managed for easy consumption.
As envisioned, each partner would typically require only a subset of existing APIs, but that subset may vary for each partner. Obviously, creating multiple subsets or filtered views of Orange’s APIs (especially as those APIs changed over time) would quickly become unmanageable.
The key to making APIs useful to partners and manageable for staff was Layer 7. Layer 7 SecureSpan SOA Gateway allowed Orange to create a layer of abstraction or indirection between what functionality they published internally and what functionality they exposed to partners. Policy-based controls allowed Orange to define the message, identity and interface level security for the APIs; tracking usage; monitoring interface health; managing, versioning and updating APIs, etc. – all without breaking client applications.
As a core component of both Orange’s Nursery and Emerginov, the Layer 7 SecureSpan SOA Gateway gives Orange visibility into who is using which API, as well as allowing them to extract billing information, validate SLA conformance and track usage for capacity planning.
Since first proposed in December 2009, Emerginov has gained rapid acceptance and now has a number of initiatives to its credit, including:
Benefits have been quick to accrue: by providing developers with secure access to telecom service and data APIs via the Nursery, Orange has created a far more agile IT platform on which to develop new offerings faster and at less cost by reusing/recomposing existing services.
Making the Nursery available to local partners in third world countries via Emerginov has resulted in the creation of revenue-generating services designed “by the people, for the people”. In this way, Orange has overcome many of the barriers that had previously limited their growth in emerging markets.