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How to Get the Business to Participate in an API Initiative

By Alan Glickenhouse posted Fri May 31, 2019 02:05 PM

Some IT organizations have realized they would be far more successful if they brought the business on-board in their API initiative.  But, it has been common that neither the business or IT really want to do this.  In some cases, IT is concerned about not being ready to meet a flood of business demands or simply does not see the need for business involvement.  APIs are viewed as technology and the early use cases are internal so there is no need to involve the business.  The business does not see why they need or would benefit from an “API” initiative.  Aren’t APIs technology?

There are exceptions, but in general early stages of API initiatives are led and managed by IT alone.  Recently the number of requests I am receiving about how to approach the business to partner on API initiatives is increasing at a noticeable rate.  I am ecstatic to see this!  So, that’s the topic for today’s blog.

[caption id="attachment_11083" align="aligncenter" width="448"]handshake Image by rawpixel from Pixabay[/caption]

This progression from IT led to Business – IT partnership is one of the transitions we documented in the API Economy Journey Map (maturity model).

Let’s use a self-quiz model to see what you think and if it matches my suggestions.  Below I list a set of topics related to API initiatives.  Decide for each topic whether:

  1. This is a Good topic to discuss to help bring the business on-board

  2. You might mention the topic, but it is not be a key point to discuss with the business

  3. You should NOT mention this in a discussion with the business


Here is the list of topics to potentially discuss with the business, what do you think?

  1. Business APIs

    [caption id="attachment_11084" align="alignright" width="170"]yes, no, maybe checklist Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay[/caption]

  2. API Economy

  3. API Management

  4. Microservices

  5. A Service Mesh

  6. API Gateway

  7. Developer Portal

  8. REST, GraphQL, and/or Web Services

  9. Driving reuse

  10. IT Cost Savings

  11. API Monetization

  12. Increasing speed to market

  13. Reaching new customers or new markets

  14. Innovation

  15. Sharing data within the Enterprise

  16. Data Security and Data Privacy

  17. Competitive threats

  18. Digital Business / Digital Transformation


[caption id="attachment_11085" align="alignright" width="177"]hands over mouth Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay[/caption]

Things NOT to Mention to the Business

The CIO keynote at Interop was titled, “Less Jargon, More Focus on Business Outcomes”.  We see frequently that the business communication issue is not limited to only API initiatives!


Discussions on technical constructs, components, or the implementation of the solution while extremely important points for IT should not be used to convince the business that they need to be part of the initiative.  Even after you successfully convince the business to work with you on your API initiative, the business does not care how IT is going to implement the API initiative.  They care about business results.  From the list above the following topics should NOT be discussed with the business: Microservices, A Service Mesh, API Management, API Gateway, Developer Portal, REST, GraphQL, Web Services, Driving Reuse, and IT Cost Savings.


“Wait!”, you say, “I understand all the others, but why not discuss driving reuse or IT cost savings?  These are about money, shouldn’t the business care?”


From my experience, the business does not care about reuse or IT cost savings.  The business expects that IT is smart enough to do all the correct things to save money for itself and optimize solutions.  The business does not feel they need to be involved in determining how IT should do this.


Good Topics to Discuss with the BusinessMegaphone - Important

Start by talking about driving revenue through digital transformation and emphasize that this requires that business and IT work together.  For help making these points, please see “Why Become a Digital Business?”.

Business leaders are probably hearing about Digital Business and Digital Transformation but may not have a good definition or know the financial opportunity that this promises.


The next part of the conversation should describe more specifically how the business benefits from a digital transformation.  I have covered these topics in prior blogs so will summarize each of these here and provide links to the more complete description:

  • Speed to Market – Digital businesses need to deliver offerings quickly. We need to establish a multi-speed environment where IT can assure the reliability of the existing systems that run the current business while allowing business developers access to the appropriate assets to deliver new business offerings faster.

  • Reaching New Customers / New Markets – Digital transformation also describes a customer centric approach. With this perspective, we need to support new channels to market for our offerings that promote our capabilities in the context of what and where the customer is looking.

  • Innovation – Digital businesses are innovative. But, we need to recognize that not all new ideas are going to be successful.  We need to enable a “fail fast” approach that allows the business to try new offerings in the market at high speed with low risk and low cost.  Let the bad ideas be discovered and ended quickly and spend time and resources on the good ideas.

  • Sharing Data Within the Enterprise – Frequently we have information in our company that could benefit another part of the business, but secure and simple access to this information is not available and we may miss opportunities. We need to enhance the ability to appropriately share information between lines of business and geographies under appropriate regulatory and privacy controls.

  • Competitive Threats – Whether a competitor has done something that is a differentiator, or we want to do something to differentiate ourselves from the competition, the new approaches supporting speed to market, reaching new customers, and innovation allow us to quickly close the gap with the competition or pass them and take the lead.


Two more items fit into the “good to discuss” category, but you might change the wording slightly in your discussion:

  • API Monetization – I would suggest discussing “asset monetization” as a lead thought with the term “API” to follow (see section below). API implies a technical implementation that the business does not care about.  However, monetization of business assets as a potential new or enhanced business model is attractive.

  • Data Security and Data Privacy – Business people want to know that they are not opening the business to legal issues or bad headlines. Data Security and Data Privacy are business issues and you need to assure the business that these concerns are covered and the business assets that are being made available will be handled with the appropriate care.  But, do not get into the details as to how this works.


You Might Mention These Topics

We are left with two items from our list that you might mention to the business, but I would not lead with these as the opening message.  These are “Business API” and “API Economy”.  I discuss both terms in, “The Biggest Impediment to API Economy Growth is…?”.  The problem with both terms is that they may lead the business to think this is solely about technology because of the three-letter acronym, “API”.  So, why mention it?  Sooner or later the term API is going to get mentioned in a meeting or a document.  It is difficult to avoid the term completely.  So, better to get ahead of the issue and explain that the term Business API is a reference to business assets and that the API Economy is the underpinning of Digital Transformation and the use of the business assets to achieve all the new business opportunities that were discussed.


What Are You Asking the Business To Do?

We have made our case and what business would turn down this incredible opportunity?  Now you need to close the deal by locking in their participation and funding.


Digital transformation is not an IT project or even a project at all.  It is not something you do once, finish, and move onward.  We need to transform the way we do things as an ongoing method to achieve these benefits.  This includes a commitment to roles and responsibilities and a strategic shift to become a digital business.  The business and IT need to work together to create a strategy and affect behavior in the company moving forward.


Specifically, roles related to the initiative and API Product Management need business participation.  The organizational structure shown in the figure above is a sample model depicting the cooperation of business and IT to drive the initiative.


Perhaps the best example I have experienced is a financial company kicking off their API initiative.  Before creating their first API a high-level executive called a meeting of both business and IT leadership.  The executive stated that the company viewed APIs as a channel to market for the next 10 years.  They needed a joint business and IT partnership to make this happen.  The executive stated that IT would own the infrastructure, technical implementations of APIs, standards, security, etc. but the business would own the APIs – which ones should be created, the target market, and driving the API success.  Very impressive.


Whether you are just starting to look at an API initiative or the initiative is already underway, I encourage you to engage the business to drive the maximum benefit for your company.


To understand more about IBM’s thoughts on Digital Transformation and the API Economy visit the IBM API Economy website.  IBM API Connect is IBM’s complete foundation to Create, Secure, Manage, Test, and Monitor APIs.  You can find more information about IBM API Connect at the API Connect website.  And you can also experience a trial version of API Connect.


If you have questions, please let me know.  Connect with me on linkedin or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.