API Platform Defined: When an API Provider is a Platform

By standing on the shoulders of giants, we all have the possibility to disrupt markets and unseat entrenched incumbents. Cloud computing, mobile, and social have opened up unprecedented opportunity that we all have the chance to capitalize on. Market leaders like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Twilio are using these disruptive technologies to form the foundation that we can build on to automate interactions between our networks and theirs.

These types of organizations are API platforms, but what is an API platform? We talk about API platforms so much here on the Nordic APIs blog and at our events that we wanted to define it clearly.

The Definition of an API Platform

An API provider is an organization that exposes data and/or capabilities through a programmatically consumable service or an Application Programming Interface (API). This organization is more than a provider and has become a platform when its API:

  • Enables access to the organization’s core value proposition;
  • Is technically and non-technically scalable;
  • Enables consumers to create shared value;
  • Is instrumental in securing the organization’s position as a market leader; and
  • Is seen by top management as business critical.

Elaborating on this Statement

An organization is an API platform if it exposes its resources and assets in a machine readable format to other members of the ecosystem. This allows those third-parties to build on the API platform’s core value and create new value for their customers.

An API platform is an organization which brings together two or more distinct, but interdependent, groups of consumers using APIs. This creates a foundation for automated transactions between different networks. The platform unlocks hidden value within the organization by exposing its core as an API. In this way, it acts as a centerpiece for open innovation, co-creation, and collaborative development. This facilitates an ecosystem effect where the platform becomes the basis on which others conduct their business.

Simply put, an API platform is:

  • A catalysts for growth
  • A hub for innovation
  • A co-creating ecosystem
  • An organization which has automated strategic partnering
  • An efficient system that adapts to its surrounding environment

Why be an API Platform?

To become an API provider can be challenging enough. Why would an organization strive to be more? Why invest in the people and technology necessary to become a platform? Business leaders are seeking to transform their organizations into API platforms because of their potential to disrupt entire markets. An API platform is necessary to pull off a platform business model (e.g., like Amazon’s and the others’ we mentioned).

What do you think? Did we correctly define what an API platform is? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook. In upcoming posts, we will incorporate your feedback as we delve deeper into the why and how of becoming an API platform. We will also give you more examples like LEGO’s journey toward platformification. To be sure and catch those as soon as they are published, subscribe to our newsletter. Before then, be sure to register for the Nordic APIs Platform Summit in Stockholm to discuss these things face to face in October.

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Kin Lane and Mike Amundsen for initial feedback and critique.]