How to live in the era of APIs

Doug Chapman

Doug is the managing director of Razorfish Australia, a digital experience marketing agency and arm of one of the world's leading digital consultancy businesses. Doug has more than 21 years of industry insight, with extensive client service experience and a passion for digital. In 1999 he founded one of Australia’s leading brand activation companies, The Marketing Store, and in 2007, he co-founded the Social Media Club Sydney, building it into the world’s largest Social Media Club with more than 300 chapters. Doug’s passion for digital led Doug to join Razorfish in 2009 as executive director of client services. He became managing director in 2012.

I would be surprised if most CMOs had not heard of an API, and many probably have a reasonable understanding of the functionality. If not, Wikipedia is a good reference. What I do suspect, however, is that many marketers don’t fully understand or appreciate the transformational power of an API in their business.

Creating an API is all about enabling access to your data for anybody or paying customers to use. This means that instead of investing thousands in creating custom-built dashboards and reports that may suit one person or department, you effectively open up the data in a way whereby the end user/s can use the data to match their specific need.

Without realising it, most companies are using this technology when they integrate Google Maps, Twitter or Facebook into their websites. They are accessing the API of those social feeds and then applying filters to customise the feed to suit their purpose. While social platforms have been big users of API technology, there are many other great examples out there, especially in the area of mobile applications.

Take Flight Tracker for example: The app accesses an API from Air Traffic Control, which provides live data indicating the speed, height, position and ID of every aircraft in real time. This in itself could seem fairly boring and of little use to anyone outside the aviation world, but when you put great experience design over a clever idea, you get a handy app for making sure you never miss picking up friends or family from the airport next time they visit.

There are endless examples of API technology in today’s mobile offerings, but what about your business? What data is sitting inside your company that could transform your business or for that matter, your partners or even the industry as a whole?

Earlier this year, Ford did a small but amazing thing in terms of the general automotive industry. Whereas the history of automotive and most industry is to patent or protect IP, Ford took a lead from Silicon Valley and opened up its work on vehicle entertainment systems, via API, allowing non-Ford owners and manufacturers to access its system. The company also launched a developer kit and an API to allow companies to make companion apps. These are then submitted to Ford for approval. This is brave and bold precedent and all companies could do well to look at such an initiative more closely at this example.

Some of the data a supermarket is sitting on, for example, could completely transform the supply line of a farmer or manufacturer to help reduce waste, hold less inventory and ultimately deliver better value to the consumer. On the other hand, data from massive agricultural enterprises may revolutionise crop production for the entire industry or even fix world poverty (and after all isn’t that we all are working towards).

The secret to successful API endeavour is to recognise that it is not necessarily about you. While there is an investment in getting APIs in place in your business, in many cases the real value is not what you do but what others do with that data.

Who knows, one day your silos of seemingly useless information about SKUs or manufacturing tolerances may power the most successful phone app of all time?

Tags: APIs, content marketing tactics, data-driven marketing, marketing strategy

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