Things really are changing – and changing fast

Have a look at this quote from a company called Layer 7

“The Application Programming Interface or API is an old concept for exposing application functionality programmatically to other applications and developers. API Management is important. Increasingly commercial and public sector organizations are looking to expose select data and functionality to outside developers…”

And now have a read of the second half of the quote

“… so that they can leverage external innovation for reaching new customers, creating new revenue opportunities and building brand loyalty. In so doing companies are transforming their business into platforms.”

Thoughts?  Its a quote of two halves. The first one an IT techfest with some juicy terminology, the second one straight from the marketing strategy team; innovation, brand loyalty, reaching new customers.  All good but all really really disruptive.  New ways of reaching customers, new ways of delivering products & services, new ways of developing and keeping that relationship.  Mobility, scalability, portability. Fabulous fantastic stuff. Can you tell I’m pretty keen on this?

Now some of you out there may be saying, APIs aren’t new! SOAP has been around for years.  Yes, yes it has; as have many other services. The difference now is manyfold.  Firstly the available number of components in your API ecosystem has massively increased.  The willingness of other companies to share data via their API along with the existence of companies for whom API is their raison d’être; their way of making money.  It has reached a point where if you now want to do that crazy idea you’ve always been thinking about you can pretty much do it without too much effort and too much money.  I know this because I am at it as well with my own CRM system.  Doing this stuff is just so much simpler now.

Some useful links for the less tech savvy What is an API 

So who leads innovation and idea generation within your organisation?  Where do the skills and know how come from that can drive these ideas to market in a form that is a) of value to the customer and b) light enough to deploy rapidly to market and then build upon?  The answer is not clean cut.  Not clean cut at all.  Answering both A and B will drive you in different directions.  On the one hand you’ll need developers and “technical” people to glue everything together and on the other hand you’ll need a view on what a “minimum viable product” really looks like.  You’ll need an approach to continuous development that enables a quick launch, a continuous approach to understanding and analyzing customer value and a rapid method for deploying incremental changes.  And you’ll need to bring all of these people together and get them to work together and communicate with each other as equals in this venture.  I would suggest that the standard supplier/customer relationship between IS/IT and your customer facing operations is no longer fit for purpose.  I’d also suggest that letting your IS function drive innovation doesn’t work either.  This is no longer a case of hierarchical dominance

If two departmental cultures could be any more different between IS and sales & marketing I can’t think of any.  One moulded by process, structure. methodology and planning; the other one (in theory) shaped by creativity, responsiveness and agility.  Two caricatures that are open to challenge but nevertheless when IT meets marketing or sales – typically around the business need to implement some software (we’ll look at operational challenges separately) the sparks can fly.    There’s a whole host of differences that need reconciling

  • Differences in language – each comes to the table to preconceptions and internal models – make sure you are clear on your definitions
  • Differences in priorities (proximity to the end customer)
  • Differences in pace (what and where the deadlines are)
  • Differences in planning cycles (being told too late, budget allocations)
  • Knowledge of approach/methods

The answer is a simple one (IMHO) but much more complicated to implement.  It involves a hybrid team that sits outside of the standard boundaries.  A team that can operated at the “speed of the market”.  Communication, flexibility in approach, agility with the right business engagement and a need for extensive senior involvement at all stages of the development cycle.