Bay Bridge Last week we had the pleasure of attending the awesome APIDays Australia event in Melbourne – congratulations to the team at Sixtree and APIDays for pulling off a great event (check out Frank Arrigo’s great write up!). The “Platforms for Innovation” theme was a great opportunity to go deep on a topic we cover all the time with our customers – how to deliver real value with a platform strategy.

The notion of “becoming a platform” has become ingrained in today’s IT and product discourse: platform strategies can transform markets (Uber is a prime example) and be the foundation for internal innovation. Unfortunately, despite the buzz it can be very hard to both pin down the real value of a platform to your organization and subsequently to really deliver. In the talk we cover both the value of platforms and the focus needed to deliver real value. The slides are available here:

A few takeaways from the discussion on the value of platforms:

  1. Externally facing platforms (that engage customers and partners) are often treated very differently from internal platforms (that foster internal innovation). However, the goals are in fact very similar. They are both about the co-creation of value between different actors. External platforms connect customers and partners. Internal platforms connect infrastructure assets to application development teams.
  2. Gartner’s notion of bi-modal IT has widely received a lot of criticism. However this doesn’t make the notion of bi-modal IT invalid. Much of this criticism takes the position that the approach separates IT groups pursuing innovation or (worse) silos innovation. If implementation is carried out incorrectly this is indeed a disastrous outcome. However, done right, the approach is not about separation but creating stable, managed interfaces from core assets, so that they can reused to create new value. Both sides of the interface can innovate in tandem, but the interfaces are clear. This is the essence of an effective platform strategy.
  3. One of the most challenging times in the platform journey is if a company has a so-called “Jeff Bezos moment” (quoting Frank Arrigo). This refers to buying into the creation of platform infrastructure and APIs. Such an executive boost is hugely positive for a company. However it can easily lead to a rush to create many new APIs, change working practices and add process all at the same time. When these moments happen it is critical to focus relentlessly on the value being created.

Even when the value to the organization is clear, it can be hard to deliver on such a large, broad concept. APIs are central to the creation of a platform, providing the primary building blocks that can be reused by users, customers, partners and internal teams to create value. However, creating a collection of APIs and hoping for value to be created is not enough.

If anything, the most effective strategy is to seek out what different users of each possible set of APIs really needs, and deliver one-by-one across use cases. Once enough use cases are covered, the potential for new emerging value rises. When working with customers, we have a range of tactical advice to provide on execution of platform efforts (the API Owner’s Manual is a great place to start). However at the strategic level, these really boil down to three things:

  1. Focus on value: In other words, seek out the valuable use cases for APIs in the organizations and ensure they’re well served. If necessary, this means reducing the numbers of APIs initially – hard to do in the throes of a Jeff Bezos moment! – but critical to ensure the APIs really deliver value.
  2. Optimize on accessibility and utility: Think of an API as delivering access to a set of capabilities, and assess who in the organization or the customer base could create value with this asset. Often, reaching these extended audiences requires more work in the form of integrations, SDKs, plugins or training.
  3. Divide and conquer: Lastly, as a successful platform program goes, it becomes extremely challenging to manage all the disparate APIs involved. It’s crucial to foster not only APIs but also the creation and management of new APIs by different parts of the organization from the beginning. The ability of different parts of the organization to become both API providers and consumers is key to long term success.

Investment in your organization’s platform efforts is likely to be one of the most important and crucial to competitiveness. Delivering on the vision is almost by definition a hard grind (API by API, app enabled by app enabled). However it’s ultimately extremely rewarding, as it will enable other business units to deliver new products and services.

The video of my presentation will be on it’s way via InfoQ soon. Thank you to APIDays for the kind invitation and great event!

Contact us at info@3scale.net – we’re always keen to engage and talk platforms and APIs!

Image Credit: Pierre Rougier (https://unsplash.com/photos/0iAzHzjeYRk)