Continuing the API Economy Business Drivers and Use Case Categories series our next use case category is Public.  WAIT!  Don’t leave.  So often as soon as I mention the idea of public APIs the first reaction is, “we don’t want any public APIs”.  I have written about this in the past in “Don’t be afraid of public APIs”.  So please (re-)read this to understand – it really is not scary.


I will focus on the methodology I use to identify API use cases so you can apply this to your specific business.  As a reminder you can find industry examples for APIs across the use case categories linked here.

 

Why have public APIs?

There are several reasons to have public APIs:

  • Potential customers may use comparison Apps from third parties to look for products or services that you offer. Frequently these Apps obtain their information via APIs, so not having an API means you are not even being considered.
  • If the comparison App wants to include your offerings and you do not supply an API then they will probably screen scrape your web site to get the information. This leads to web traffic that is not productive for you and out of date information being used by the comparison application.
  • Public consumers are partners you just don’t know yet! These public consumers may generate additional business for your company.  Why would you not want this?
  • The creativity of the masses. There are many creative people in the world. Not all of them work in your company.  Creative solutions are being built every day and having your APIs used as part of these can be a very positive thing for your business.

 

A simple method to identify public APIs

Let’s be clear, in most cases the APIs that we make public are NOT the ones with private sensitive information.  When you build APIs, you target which audience(s) can see them and consume them.  You do NOT have to make all APIs available to all audiences.  APIs with sensitive information may only be available internally or to partners.

 


Typically, initial forays into public APIs make information available that is already publicly accessible.  So, public API candidates may be the easiest ones to identify out of all the categories.  Simply look at your web site and other publicly available channels and determine what information you are making available today.  These are your public API candidates.  This often includes your product or offering catalog, detailed information on the products/offerings, prices, business locations, hours of operation, interest rates/loan rates for financial businesses, inventory availability, rewards program information, etc.  Go to your web site, do not logon, and see what information you can find.  These are your initial potential public APIs.

 

There are exceptions to limiting public APIs to non-sensitive information such as when regulatory requirements may require access to this sensitive information.  In these cases, there is still significant security, authentication and authorization, and potentially an enrollment approval process implemented to use these APIs.

 

Is there anything else?

Of course!  As I mentioned earlier, public API consumers are just partners you haven’t met yet.  You might choose to allow public consumers to see APIs but not consume them.  The sign-up process to consume the APIs can be one that requires approval and a more formal partnering business relationship to be established.  So, public APIs can be an on-ramp to partnering.

 

Another option for certain appropriate APIs is to allow a free usage level or limited functionality for APIs and as usage grows require the consumer to go through the sign-up process.

 

Some APIs may be revenue generating APIs for your business and you want everyone to use them. 
Payment APIs, as an example, are public APIs that would be less effective if everyone who used them were required to be a known and approved partner.  Other APIs may bring in users that drive up your popularity and let you charge advertisers more because of the increased visibility you provide.  There are many monetization business models that fit into categories such as these.

 


I do understand the initial reaction to “public” APIs is one of fear.  Immediately the thought of unknown people with bad intentions accessing your APIs comes to mind.  Remember the purpose of the API is to provide controlled access to the appropriate business assets and resources.  Through security, rate limiting, and other techniques, APIs become a secure control point to these assets.  Over the longer term Public APIs will become more common.  For the near term, most businesses do focus their initial efforts on internal and partner use cases.  Forward looking businesses will quickly progress to public APIs as well.  Next up our final installment in the Use Case Category series – “IoT”.

 

To understand more about IBM’s thoughts on the API Economy visit the IBM API Economy website.  IBM API Connect is IBM’s complete foundation to Create, Run, Manage, and Secure 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 through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.

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