Gartner analyst Benoit J. Lheureux asked whether the adoption of Web APIs would end, at long last, the integration challenges plaguing enterprises, lo, these many years.
I've written before about both the integration potential of APIs and the integration headaches of SaaS but Lheureux's post generated new revelations about other levels of integration issues with APIs. Eric Knipp posted a response noting that APIs can't solve the "semantic impedance mismatch inherent in disparate API definitions." And Bob Moul of Boomi, which offers a SaaS integration solution, actually wrote a lengthy response about the many ways APIs would fall short on solving integration problems, even if vendors would agree to an open standard:
"... even if all APIs were standardized, there would still be a need for integration. Why? APIs are only one end of the equation-they do not complete the end-to-end integration process between applications. Two apps with APIs still need a cord with plugs to connect them together."
Validation of data, business logic, error processing, and even integration of another API are all among the problems he cites, noting that even applications built on the same Platform as a Service have integration problems:
"Even two apps built on the same PaaS platform are not natively integrated with one another. That probably bears repeating Even two apps built on the same PaaS platform are not natively integrated with one another."
Of course, his post also includes a pitch on how Boomi's AtomSphere can help fill in some of these integration gaps.
Okay, those are all great points. But Lheureux actually asks a nuanced and useful questions in the body, beneath the attention-grabbing, but too simple, headline: How are these APIs consumed and who will consume the majority of them in the future? End users? IT service providers or value-added resellers? Or will APIs be consumed outright by consumers?
It will, to some extent, be based on how easy these APIs are to use. And Lheureux argues in a previous post that in some ways, API specifications are as complicated and diverse as their stodgy enterprise forefathers-EDI:
"I believe that there will be a significant amount of direct WOA API consumption w/o utilization of integration functionality. But I also believe that there will also still be a significant amount of such API consumption via integration technology one way or another, e.g., to address semantic reconciliation."
So, the real point isn't whether APIs will make integration technology obsolete, but to what degree they'll be able to function without integration technology.