An exceptional article in the January/February edition of Information Management Magazine, available online, is a must-read for both business and IT leaders, particularly if you're involved in receiving or sharing data over the Web.
Written by the magazine's editorial director, Jim Ericson, it's one of the most complete explorations of the business value and potential hazards of open application programming interfaces (APIs) I've seen to date.
If I sound overly enthusiastic, I think you'll forgive me once you read the full article, which, I admit, starts out a bit slowly. If you read this blog regularly, you'll know I've explored the business and integration value of open APIs previously.
It's a trend that's been largely ignored, even in the tech press, but it's significant, as Ericson explains:
A mostly undocumented trend has been the rise of Web traffic that runs not through browsers, but through application programming interfaces. APIs serve as a conduit for developers to extract data into applications, and for gatekeepers to regulate traffic loads, control access permission and the rights to access data. Thusly, a developer accesses or subscribes to services to build a desktop or iPhone application that might call on airline reservation systems, weather reports and hotel booking systems all in one view. ....Perhaps most important, APIs provide a point of transaction that might be free or paid.
In other words, we're shifting from receiving, viewing and consuming data through the relatively safe confines of a browser to integrating data straight into our systems.
It's the Web as integration platform, Ericson writes. And no, that isn't just another way to say software-as-a-service, although certainly SaaS has played a heavy hand in the acceptance of this trend. In fact, SaaS companies report a tremendous growth in data consumed through APIs rather than the browser, he says.
But it's not just the SaaS vendors and online startups. Data as a service is attracting the attention of enterprises and big vendors. including SAP, IBM and Informatica, are adding tools to support integration with external data and exploring how to capitalize on this "new transactional data economy," he writes.
This shouldn't be surprising-after all, we've been marching toward this since the mid-1990s. And yet, most are still unprepared for what this means in terms of data quality, your standards of trust and how to govern this new integration platform. For one thing, Ericson notes, it's going to mean adding risk management and some way of ranking data according to degrees of "trustability":
Whether it's a pig in a poke or a highly regarded source, there is every reason to expect we will be talking more about the value of information and less about the details of infrastructure that support it. The Web as integration platform has arrived and with it, an economy of its own.
It's a lengthy article, but, as I said, it's an excellent examination of this emerging trend. He even discusses the many business models companies are exploring. However, if you just don't have the stomach for a long piece, you might scan his blog post on "Data as Commerce," which is less a synopsis and more of a short piece on its own, with links to a previous article he wrote on open APIs.