The noise is almost deafening: Application programming interfaces (API) are the cure for everything. IT pundits and analysts are proclaiming the dawn of the API economy, and vendors are API-zing their offerings.

But what value, exactly, do APIs bring to the business? 

Mala Ramakrishnan, director of product marketing at Oracle, addressed this question in a recent article at the Service Technology Magazine. There are two advantages an API, which stands for “application programming interface,” but is now mainly referred to by its initials — brings to the table:

Flexibility and agility to the organization. The ability to tap into APIs for various pre-built functions — be it CRM, purchase orders or IT security protocols — means cutting out countless hours of programming time to build such functions from scratch. In addition, it means capabilities are immediately available for the asking, enabling swifter responses to problems or opportunities. It also encourages collaboration across departments and business units, who may be sharing or using one another's APIs. APIs may be accessed from outside third parties via the cloud model, or built and shared within the enterprise.

Bring partners and customers into your orbit: APIs open up applications within the enterprise to drive new business opportunities. Ramakrishnan provides an example: “Offering APIs which allow developers to create a mobile-device friendly retail store may bring in more purchases from shoppers on the go, who are not sitting in front of a computer with a web browser. Another approach is making APIs available that can be leveraged by third parties to create innovative new offerings combining core capabilities with other web-based content or capabilities. This can positively alter the consumer experience and result in increased revenue.”

The most recent estimates I have seen put the number of open, or publicly available APIs at more than 13,000, but there are millions more being created internally within enterprises.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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