APIs Are at the Heart of Digital Business

April 20, 2016

Contributor: Rob van der Meulen

APIs are minimizing the friction caused by bimodal IT.

Application programing interfaces (APIs) are everywhere. Everyday actions — like posting a message on a social network, reading the news on a smartphone, or buying a theatre ticket online — are completed through API calls.

IT leaders tasked with delivering on the demands of digital business understand that the composition of an organization's application portfolio must change to support bimodal IT where legacy run-the-business applications (Mode 1) must work alongside less constrained, more innovative solutions and approaches (Mode 2).

The practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of developing and delivering business change can create friction between the requirements of the modes, which will become increasingly frequent because the styles of work are so different.

“This friction can be minimized by the intelligent use of APIs,” said Paolo Malinverno, research vice president at Gartner. “APIs are the layer through which Mode 1 and Mode 2 can connect, allowing doors to open between the core data and functionality of a Mode 1 application and a more experimental, innovative Mode 2 application.”

An enterprise's digitalized application portfolio increasingly needs access to both Mode 1 and Mode 2, as well as a deep interaction between the two modes. APIs make these interactions possible. However, some IT leaders question how to govern this turbulent evolution and all the moving parts it involves.

The answer lies in a five-phase model that defines the role of bimodal and APIs within an application strategy, as well as addressing the friction between Mode 1 and Mode 2. It provides leadership with a way to make sense of the potential chaos that can be created as bimodal takes shape.

API-Driven Bimodal Roadmap

  1. Prepare the ground: Phase one of the bimodal roadmap is mainly about the upfront planning necessary to start bimodal, based on the premise that prior analysis will not be as valuable as learning by doing. This phase is primarily completed by the CIO or chief data officer (CDO) and leadership team. Set project filters to choose the initial pilot projects, catalog existing APIs and clarify how they will be used.
  2. Get going: This phase is about a cluster of small organizational changes, focused on identifying the people and projects necessary to get Mode 2 underway. This phase entails appointment of new roles, training in new methodologies, forming multidisciplinary teams and examining which APIs enable the capabilities your company's digital strategy needs and pin down the value enabled by the APIs.
  3. Work on live data: This phase is typified by Mode 2 project execution. It’s important to protect Mode 2 projects from “business as usual” and see this phase as about learning, rather than perfection. Run small projects quickly and iteratively and then assess and refine in the next phase. Give tightly managed APIs to developers, take their good ideas and multiply the value.
  4. Optimize: This phase is a time to pause and refine bimodal capabilities, identifying and addressing longer-term problems that may have cropped up, such as skill gaps, or the inflexibility of legacy systems causing problems, or funding issues. It requires discipline to wait for this phase to refine bimodal capability, but this is when application governance becomes more formal, establishing rigorous Mode 1 and Mode 2 synchronization processes and roles.
  5. Make Mode 2 a continuous enterprise capability: Phase five of the bimodal roadmap is focused on turning project-focused bimodal capability into a repeatable enterprise capability. It’s a phase of systematic API production and wide distribution of functionality, as well as tackling long-term IT issues and any stumbling blocks left from the previous phases.

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