The Danish capital was abuzz yesterday afternoon as Nordic APIs hosted the Copenhagen-leg of the Private, Partner, Public APIs events tour. With participants coming from all over Denmark as well as Sweden, organizers were delighted to see the community’s growth with a turnout that included newcomers and prior attendees. “Developers and business stakeholders who recognize the power and potential of APIs and are coming together to share about them is the realization of the Nordic APIs vision,” said organizer and co-founder, Travis Spencer after the event. “We are so happy to see it happening on this tour and here in Denmark,” he added.
High Partner API usage
“We use several APIs in our business and are constantly looking at others,” said one participant on the day. Working specifically around wearable technologies, this attendee was particularly frustrated by the lack of uniform systems and standards. Key take-aways were given by Holger Reinhardt of Layer 7 who discussed the use of SDKs, Sumit Sharma of MuleSoft who stressed the need for common API service descriptions, Cathrine Lippert of the Danish Agency for Digitisation who highlight how Danish government agencies are solving data inconsistency challenges, and the other speakers in the lineup. Attendees mentioned how this guidance was valuable input in the work they would be doing the next day when they returned to the office as Nordic APIs moves to its next tour stop. (Spoiler alert: it is Helsinki today. There’s still time for readers in Oslo tomorrow, 3 April, for the final event day.)
For many developers working in businesses with private and partner APIs, the presentations gave new energy to implementing best practice. “We outsource work to development teams so we need at least to have the ambition to document some partner APIs as we do with public APIs, so we try not to distinguish between the two,” one attendee said. “We have built tooling support to make that easier overall, but we are still not in as good a place as we want to be with using internal APIs.” For this dev team who attended the event, networking with other developers working in businesses on private APIs was a motivation to keep trying to improve internal approaches, and the team were excited to take on one of the recommendations shared by several speakers during the day: to ‘design your API from the outside in’, that is, to define your data model and approach security and overall API usability as if you were an external developer trying to make use of the API independently.
As part of the local agenda in Copenhagen, Anne-Sofie Nielsen, VP of Product Development at Danish company Kapow Software showed how a disparity may exist between who has the power to create an API and who has the potential to benefit the most from it. She gave an example of a major logistics and trucking company in the US that needed to schedule customer service requests against fleet and worker availability and cross-check against business partner’s VIP programs to identify the most efficient delivery rosters. In this use case, the benefits may be for the the trucking company’s business processes and not so much from the data holders such as the external partners. To solve these problems and enable business to take advantage of the integration benefits of APIs, Kapow Software provides companies with a tool to scrape public data sources and make the source data available via an API so it is more easily plugged in to workflow processes.
Often, the reason behind the need for Kapow Software’s services are because if there are APIs available to be integrated into a business’ workflow, they are not standardized enough to make it easy to daisy chain multiple APIs together, documentation is not necessarily well-documented and there is a business risk that any time an API provider could close down or restrict access. Anne-Sofie encouraged API developers creating partner and public APIs in particular to help improve the reputation of APIs by using best practice to avoid these legitimate business concerns regarding API uptake in a business strategy.
Cathrine Lippert, Innovation and Strategy Specialist at the Danish Ministry of Finance’s Agency for Digitization, is trying to solve almost exactly the same problem in regards to opening data as Anne-Sofie solves for business clients. She helps Danish government agencies to make their data available more publicly, and — where possible — encourages the data to be available by API, where that does not slow down or halt the process of opening up data. She pointed to several ways the open data agenda can be progressed faster: in part by external API developers creating new solutions using the data that is being opened up and in part by Danish agencies moving to use more consistent formats in the data they do share.
Dealing with security
Dario from Danish firm Leadmill is working as part of a team that hopes to optimize their the online marketing company’s services by developing their own API. He was impressed by the presentations from Travis Spencer of Twobo Technologies and David Gorton of Ping Identity that showed how to incorporate best practice neo-security protocols into an API system. Security is always a concern when starting on an API journey, but it seemed like Dario was reassured by the presentations: “It is something you have to take into account. Another take-home was the idea of taking it step by step, like Twilio showed. Start with a simpler product and then keep adding different features. We’ll start with a version one with 2-3 features for customers and then build little by little.”
Bringing use cases to life
The talk by Ben Nunney from Twilio has been a great way to finish the agenda at the Nordic API events. With participants heads swimming with so much new information and interesting perspectives, Ben has been able to bring it all back down to a practical level again and leave participants feeling hopeful and even more inspired rather than overwhelmed. For those unfamiliar to the API-as-service which Twilio provides, their product enabling access to SMS and now VoIP services via an API, developers gain insights into a new tool that they can use when suggesting new ways of communicating across the business and with customers, staff and stakeholders. Ben provided a number of insights into Twilio’s growth and shared several use cases. One of the most innovative from an IoT-to-business perspective showed how Coca-Cola’s vending machines perform self-diagnostics and when repair problems are identified, the vending machine can automatically look up available repair contractors in the local area and send a text via Twilio directly to the repairer to submit a service request, detailing the malfunction.
- Cathrine Lippert from the Danish Agency of Digitisation informed the group that it is illegal for any Danish government agency to refuse to share data with a third-party on the grounds that that entrepreneur wishes to use it for commercial purposes.
- One of the use cases shared by Tom Burnell of Axway showed how the utility company Essent is using APIs. You can read more in this blog post.
- David Gorton from Ping Identity uncovered a growing horror facing many enterprises: when staff leave and their user accounts are left in the database, it risks creating ‘zombie users’ that can be hacked to gain access to an enterprise’s data assets. Luckily, OpenID Connect is a security protocol able to deal with this particular threat.
The group continues on the tour to Helsinki and Oslo. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for the highlights of those stops. Also, join in the tour virtually by connecting on Twitter.