The mood was high, the wraps were eaten, and the coffee was free-flowing: Nordic APIs began its four country tour in Stockholm yesterday with a networking lunch, a packed agenda, and a fully booked room of participants. While there were a handful of business developers in the audience, the bulk of those attending our Stockholm event at city tech hub, Start-up People of Sweden, were developers responsible for designing and deploying APIs within their businesses.
“It’s a great thing for the community: vendors get to share learnings but its really about best practice, not product features,” said one participant about the morning session.
Per from Claremont Consulting bridges the work between sales and architect developers. For him, the value of the event was in understanding the full potential of APIs that he could share with customers: “A lot of customers have internal APIs,” Per said, referencing the overarching theme of our series: private, partner and public APIs. “But they haven’t really considered the reuse and potential for public use later on.”
The half-day agenda started with co-organizer, Andreas Krohn from Dopter, setting the stage in a discussion about private, partner and public APIs. Andreas walked through each type of API and outlined how they are being used by businesses. One area he sees with a lot more opportunity, is how businesses are using their own APIs: “Use public APIs internally,” he encouraged the audience. “If your API isn’t good enough to use even as a widget on your website, you need to rethink it. If you are still doing SQL queries down into your database instead of using your API, you need to rethink your public API.”
Andreas finished up with a discussion of the rhetoric versus the reality. It is often said that businesses can expect very high impacts from releasing public APIs, but the truth can be that it will take a while to build API recognition amongst third party developers and to coax an ecosystem into existence. While private APIs make sense for automating data processes and encouraging collaboration in larger businesses, it is partner APIs that have a high potential for generating positive business impacts quickly, and may be the best starting point for a business’ API strategy, Andreas suggested.
While the Nordics tour will provide opportunities for each country’s audience to hear a selection of key presentations in common (including keynotes from Axway, Layer 7, MuleSoft, Twilio, Ping Identity), Twobo, and Dopter the agenda also has a local feel in each city: API initiatives are being showcased from each region. In Stockholm, we were excited to hear from Pernilla Näsfors, a Development Data Specialist at the World Bank, about how she is helping them evangelise open API standards to improve global development aid reporting.
Encouraging API Standards
One of the key messages from Sumit Sharma from MuleSoft was that at its core business purpose, APIs are not really new. Businesses appreciate the need to enable B2B relationships and encourage integration and collaboration across business partnerships and networks. APIs are just the latest in a long line of technologies such as EDI and SOA that have sought to leverage technology and data architectures to more smoothly and seamlessly operate across data systems and business processes. New open source standards like RAML are making API uptake in businesses even easier, Sumit says, by encouraging not only an API-design first approach, but by creating specifications that can be replicated across an industry verticals’ particular needs. He hopes that it will be possible in the future for each industry vertical to develop a list of API service descriptions that can act as common standards for how specific functional APIs are designed within that industry.
This is similar to what Pernilla is doing at World Bank. She is working with nations and other major donors to implement the International Aid Transparency Initiatives API to ensure that open datasets documenting international development aid donations are stored in a common XML scheme that contains information about who is uninvolved, details of activities, financial records, and other relevant information in a consistent way. Amongst the World Bank’s aid partners, an agency may be using up to thirty different versions or identifiers for the one data resource.
Businesses often share some of the same problems when trying to open up their datasets via API. Depending on which system is used, the data can have different names, allow different string length, or have different identifiers. Micael Widdell from e-commerce vendor Fyndiq says this is one of the benefits of starting with private APIs: you can focus on making sure your underlying data has consistent naming conventions and other rules so that as you expose the data via API, it is seamless to manage as you scale. Another participant, Toinette Vicars, says she sees this in the market as well and said the theme resonated with her work at Apigee. “We are seeing a huge amount of amazing impact with internal APIs,” she says. “APIs are making sense to any, and every, business. We talk APIs in terms of digital transformation, and if you are not thinking about it now, you are already behind.”
Catch up with all the presentations
It was these little asides — the practical knowledge and use case examples — that saw a flurry of note-taking amongst the audience when presenters shared. We will have the slide decks and videos available later in the week for many of our key presentations, but for those attending, it was these nuggets of wisdom and the opportunity to network with peers facing a similar API journey that we hope makes our events worth attending in person, wherever possible.
- During his presentation on Nordic businesses using partner APIs, Tom Burnell from Axway mentioned moonwalking, but to the audience’s disappointment, did not give a demonstration himself.
- During question time, one participant asked Holger Reinhardt from Layer 7 to circle back through a slide on the challenges of using an SDK for API integration, and while Holger was ready for a debate, the participant just wanted to update his notes with a quick photo of the bullet point list!
- Attending the day were representatives from Swedish open data consultancy Akvo, whose work based on the OIPA API was singled out by Pernilla Näsfors from the World Bank as one of the leading examples in development aid reporting and visualizations created from an API.
- Canadian Sumit Sharma from MuleSoft couldn’t resist a gentle ribbing of any Swedish hockey fans at the event, referencing his home team’s victory over Sweden at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
- When Pernilla uploaded her Nordic APIs presentation to Slideshare, it was immediately chosen to be featured on Slideshare’s home page showcase of recently added quality content.
The next event in Copenhagen will undoubtedly have more jokes since it is after all April Fool’s Day :-) Hope to see you there!