Opinion: Ross Mason, MuleSoft founder, looks at how APIs are driving microservices – which are quickly replacing the old IT operating model.
Most businesses have had a digital wake-up call as they realised that the company they had built over the years with much success is now the thing that is holding them back in this new digital era.
New players, such as Uber and LendingTree, and established companies that have transformed themselves, such as Netflix, have become synonymous with disrupting ‘the norm’. They operate not by building up their own estates but by building services based on the estates of others. As taxi companies and hotels are already well aware of, only the most agile companies can survive and thrive against this competition.
What has become critical to these businesses is being able to unlock the value of their siloed data and assets; to connect the unconnected. Connecting applications, data, clouds and partner ecosystems creates more collaborative, responsive and streamlined environments — positioning companies to effectively embrace change and leverage new opportunities.
The success of such connectivity initiatives will hinge on the speed at which connections are made. This means that, for IT teams, the pressure is on.
In a recent MuleSoft survey, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of IT professionals questioned said pressure to deliver IT services from across the organisation had increased during the past 12 months. Of these, two-thirds (66 per cent) said that change was needed in order to meet a "significant" or "drastic" increase in pressure.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that every corner of the organisation is seeking to increase the value of its operations through technology. In the past, demand on IT came mostly from sales and marketing departments; now, finance and operations, C-level executives, and research and development teams — among others–are looking to IT for help with new initiatives. Further, almost 30 per cent of the respondents surveyed said the requests they are getting from departmental business groups are ad hoc in nature.
Enabling Business and Agility
With the entire company striving to transform, this need for company-wide agility has become one of the driving forces behind the development of API strategies, and it is fuelling a growing interest in microservices.
APIs offer a new way for businesses to connect their existing assets with those of their customers, partners and employees. This reduces the complexity of the company landscape, unlock assets and enable much greater agility through accessibility and reuse.
Indeed, enabling applications (71 percent), greater agility (67 percent) and an ability to enable partners and affiliates (56 percent) were cited as the top values that APIs bring to a business by IT professionals surveyed.
It’s an APIs’ ability to free data in a secure and managed way which is a strong part of the technology’s appeal. Data silos can be unlocked so that business teams are able to self-serve IT assets and build their own applications and processes to meet their specific goals faster than if they were to wait for an already busy IT team to take on the project. Often the biggest complaint against IT is that they can’t provide access to data fast enough.
This ability to drive innovation is the top reason why almost half (47 percent) of the professionals are implementing an API strategy.
As companies adopt the growing trend toward the decentralisation of IT, IT teams no longer own the applications but instead are governors of the data, contributing to the expanding partnership between business and IT. By opening up APIs to developers and lines of business, it is easier for interested parties to access reusable data to try out new products or explore new digital services. By making new connections, new channels can be explored – an opportunity which again almost half of respondents found of value to the business as companies seek new ways of working.
Make way for microservices
While APIs are taking centre stage, microservices are stepping out of the wings to take their turn in the limelight.
As CIOs embrace the likes of Docker and related "containerised" technology, they will create API-led microservices that will impact the way that teams are structured and managed. The prize is great agility in delivering and changing software. Microservices promises the ability to add new features and capabilities without having to re-write a whole application ensures that the organisation remains as nimble as possible in order to maintain competitive advantage.
Gone is the old IT operating model. It is no longer about keeping the technology lights on and the network running, IT is playing a critical role in organisations’ ability to stay competitive in a rapidly changing business environment. With 80 percent of IT professionals, already planning new revenue streams from their APIs within the next five years, companies may even find that their very income generation will have shifted.
What’s clear though is that while the new digital era is bringing the role of IT to the fore, only the most agile will actually succeed.