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Open APIs: An indispensable link to customers

Neil Savage | Sept. 10, 2013
Public APIs let customers connect to you in new ways, but the interface must be easy for outside developers to work with.

Cultural Resistance
Another nontechnological challenge to creating an open API is getting other people in your organization to cede some control, because they're likely accustomed to dealing with proprietary information and maintaining authority over their brand. "I had to do a lot of convincing," Bloomberg's Edwards says. "It's a different way of thinking, when you've been controlling your product." But he says it was important to distinguish between the market data Bloomberg sells and things like the symbology and software that the company doesn't need to control. "The time for all these proprietary interfaces is gone," he says. "It doesn't add value anymore."

You've got to release the right kind of data with the right documentation. Really, it comes down to what customer problems are you going to solve by doing what you do. Steve Bendt, director of emerging platforms, Best Buy

Best Buy's Bendt faced similar concerns. "It was tough when we first started talking about an API platform," he says, noting that colleagues wondered, "What are they going to build? What if they create a bad experience?" The company addressed that with rules about how developers could use the data: They must attribute it to Best Buy, for instance, and they can't appropriate it for other purposes. Best Buy doesn't preapprove apps, but it does regular audits to make sure apps comply with the terms of service.

At the World Bank, there was concern that giving away data would mean giving up the revenue that paid for curation of the data. Fantom says the bank decided that a free model would be better for its main objective of fighting poverty. "By making these data available for free and using these tools, we've seen a massive increase in the use of our data," he says. "Once you start getting into this, it's pretty clear that this is the right thing to do."

All of these organizations say they are continually developing their APIs, adding new functionality, responding to feedback from developers and customers, and figuring out what data to make available. "You've got to release the right kind of data with the right documentation. Really, it comes down to what customer problems are you going to solve by doing what you do," Bendt says. "It's not a launch-it-and-leave-it type of capability. It's constant learning and constant improvement."

 

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