Smart Farms: Planting the Seeds of the Future

By: Kyle Riordan

It seems that the Internet of Things (IOT) is infiltrating every industry (and in this blogger’s humble opinion, that’s a good thing).  We have seen this concept take hold in some familiar places, our homes, our cars, our cities and our factories; but what about our farms?  That’s right farming, one of the few industries that many of us probably assumed to be relatively stagnant in terms of technology is seeing its own revolution in what Forbes has dubbed the “Internet of Cows.”  As a people we have moved from the agrarian age to the industrial age to the digital age, and no longer shall our farms be left behind.

You may be asking yourself, “How can two so seemingly different concepts, digital technology and agriculture, find synergy in the ordinary moocow?”  The answer is of course data.  Data that can be derived from the fields, the water, the air and yes even the livestock to keep farmers better informed of their land, crops and animals. There are soil monitors, atmospheric monitors, aerial drones and animal tags being deployed on farms around the world to help farmers make better decisions.  Soil monitors can detect variables like ground temperature and moisture levels.  Atmospheric monitors can detect weather conditions in pinpointed locations.  Flyover drones can indicate if seeds have sprouted and animal monitors can track not just location but also provide indicators of potential illness.

At an industry wide level, the goals and benefits of all this is substantial.  Smart farming is actively trying to make our farms less detrimental to the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing water consumption, and streamlining farming processes.  Lofty and noble endeavors no doubt, but it can also help farms improve the bottom line. 

Let’s take the example of the connected cow.  A study conducted by the Cow Tracking Project found that each case of mastitis (a potentially fatal infection of the udder) costs farmers somewhere around £300.  With a smart tagging system used to monitor individual cows and their behavior farmers can be alerted to early indicators, make adjustments and hopefully avoid the illness.  This not only saves the farmer some money but also keeps the cow healthier and happier.  Multiply this out across a herd and the savings (in terms of both money and suffering) really start to add up.

The key is connecting all this data and delivering it to farmers in a manner that is both easily consumable and actionable.  The connectivity is precisely the area where telcos can fit in (and some already have with Verizon very much leading the charge through its Powerful Answers initiative).  There is an abundance of monitoring tools out there but not all of them offer the same level of connectivity.  Some require specific transmitters to transfer data, others require farmers to physically check stations, and some even require farmers to call in to toll free numbers to get current readings.  This lattermost instance is one where the telco use case fits in two fold.  Firstly providing the connectivity to transmit the data over the carriers cellular network and secondly by offering SMS and MMS APIs to deliver useful messages and alerts to farmers on any of their connected devices.  With the proper analytics tools evaluating the collected data the messages that are delivered can go beyond mere data readouts to active alerts warning farmers of potential problems. 

Like so many other industries, farms are getting smarter.  There are more tools than ever at farmers’ disposal to help them monitor their fields, and track their animals.  But just harvesting the data is not enough, it needs to be delivered in a time and manner that is actionable to help farmers make better decisions about their land and livestock.  With both their networks and APIs telcos can be a key enabler here helping the agricultural industry join the IOT.  Moo-ve over (sorry had to do it) old farms, the connected cows are coming home.   

Smart Homes Require Smart APIs

By: Kyle Riordan

As Google’s $3.2b purchase of Nest has made abundantly clear, the arrival of the “connected” or “smart home” is here with widespread acceptance seemingly imminent.  In many ways, connected home has already arrived with a myriad of connected devices specifically for our homes: smart thermostats, lights, locks, security systems and even refrigerators.   And the industry is only picking up steam -  a conservative estimate by Juniper Research estimates the smart home market will reach $71b by 2018.

In a way, a well thought out and well-managed API program is a lot like a smart home.  Take for instance letting people in to your house when you aren’t home.  Traditionally, this would require you to stow your key in a hideaway fake rock, the one that really looks like a rock, and then telling your friend where to find it; or physically handing over your key.  Sometimes this even meant going through the trouble of getting to the hardware store to have copies made (and if you are anything like me, returning home to find the they do not work).

With a smart lock like Goji at your front door, this hassle can essentially be eliminated.  Smart locks with integrated mobile applications can show you who is at your front door and allow you to let them in even when you are away.  You can even go so far as to assign entrants a “smart lock key,” letting them enter your house during designated days and time periods (perfect for a house cleaner if you are fortunate enough to have one).  

Cool gadget, but what does that have to do with my API?  Well, onboarding developers to your API is a lot like letting someone into your home.  You can go the traditional route, waiting for a partner/developer to come knocking at your door and (assuming you are there to hear it) hand them a set of instructions telling them how to get in; or even worse make the trek to the hardware store and build that integration yourself (then hope that it works the first time).  Or you can have a “smart” API management layer that lets the developer apply for a key that has specific controls for what he is able to access and how often.  When he does, all you have to do is click a button to let him in.

And once they are in, it is nice to know what is going in the house even when you are not physically there to see it.  With a home, this can mean simple cameras with connected mobile apps that let you get a live look into your house (or view what happened during the day).  For getting that same sort of view into your API, analytics and reporting let you see right down to the individual developer level the calls developers are making and the returns they are receiving, keeping you informed at all times.

Similarly, knowing that your API is up and running is as important as knowing that the heat is still on in the winter (forgive me I’m from New England).  In your home that could mean an automated text message letting you know the heat unexpectedly shut off.  With your API that means monitoring services that alert you that your API is down.

APIs can act as a key enabler to creating a smarter home.  Sure its cool that my smart electrical socket can communicate with a centralized hub over Z-Wave but when that communication interacts with the location of my phone turning a light on so I do not trip on my way through the door is when the connected home starts getting exciting.  With our phones tightly tethered to us, often no further than an arm’s reach away, these sort of location triggered events are ones telcos can best help create and make a part of your home. 

The big players like AT&T and Verizon have already secured their seats offering comprehensive solutions but there are still seats to be filled.  Think of the smart lock companies that want to be able to send the pictures it takes to a users phone.  Or if instead of just getting a notification within my app that monitors my heat/electricity my electrician received an automated text message detailing any issues.  MMS and SMS APIs can be the solution to giving your home its voice.

The connected home is coming and there are many roles to fill.  With such a young industry there is still opportunity to carve out your space.  No matter where your company fits in, make sure its API is as smart as the homes it powers.

 

SXSW 2014 Recap: Security & Wearables

By: Kyle Riordan

With an entire convention hall filled with exhibitors, a seemingly unending list of parties to pursue, free flowing drinks, and more food trucks than vehicles registered in the state of Montana it is easy to get lost in chaos that is SXSW.  But if we take a step back (a well rested step back after a week to recover) there seems to be a number of trends that spanned the panelists, keynotes and exhibition hall.  With participants like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald its no surprise that one of the major themes from the interactive week was privacy and security.  Privacy and security was the meatier topic no doubt, but on a lighter note there was yet another big push for wearables.  A walk down any aisle of the convention floor and you were bound to run into some new devices to measure your heart rate, a new iteration on motion controls, some form of augmented reality and of course at least one techie sporting Google Glass.  And finally there was the ever-present question of big data and how it can best be utilized. 

On the topic of privacy and security much of the sentiment touted by Snowden and echoed by Greenwald was the need for individuals to actively protect themselves as opposed to being reliant on false expectations of anonymity and security.  Snowden and his fellow panelists took the opportunity to address the obviously technically focused individuals in the audience urging them to think about security whenever they build their applications; and more importantly to think about security and its implications intrinsically as a part of the foundation of what they create as opposed to something secondary to their product.  Greenwald chose to focus more on the individual and the responsibility to encrypt their data but the overarching message remained the same putting the responsibility on the audience and not on some unrealized expectation of privacy.  Whether talking to developers though or non-technical people the message was the same, security is something we all should be thinking about.

This message on security is one that should not be lost on the API providers. There may be no way to prevent the advanced algorithms for decryption utilized by some of the worlds most powerful intelligence agencies from tapping into our data but it still needs to be protected from the rest of the world.  Users and companies still need to know that their information and data is safe, that only the right people are accessing their APIs and accessing them through the appropriate conventions.  Doing so means thinking about things such as OAuth, SSL, PCI Compliance, and HITRUST when thinking about how to roll out APIs, not simply bolting these things on after the fact.

But onto the lighter yet still prevalent topic of wearables.  At this year’s SXSW wearables were just about everywhere you looked.  Some of these devices were just fun, like an inexpensive wristband that could be set to pulse different colors depending on projected frequencies within its range.  Epson showed off its answer to Google glass showcasing a “shoot’em up” space invaders game.  A fun little game, but one that will undoubtedly send your eyes crisscrossing in every direction.  And Brivo Labs showed off a wrist worn QR code that could be used to replace paper and e-tickets.

While some focused on fun, others looked to tackle more serious needs.  Companies like Azoi chose to focus on the connected health market with a case that could be connected to your iPhone to analyze health indicators such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxidation levels.  There are of course alternatives in the market to fulfill these functions but a lot of the selling points here spoke to design and price point. 

Cue the broken record.  These devices are cool, all of them.  Everything from the ring used to control screens through simple gestures, to the iPhone case that could tell me about my heart rate by pressing my fingers on a couple of sensor pads for a few seconds.  That information is great for me to have, but it becomes exponentially more powerful when that information from my health-monitoring device can be integrated with my health care provider. 

Having APIs that can pull that information, store it in the cloud, and combine it with other health records to give not only me, but my doctor, and any hospital that I may need to visit greater and more contextualized insight into my health is when devices like these become more than just a toy.  Making that connection is when these devices start to become an integral tool to health and well being. 

This speaks not just to individual health but our collective health as well.  With the proper privacy and security controls to truly make that data anonymous when necessary, we can leverage that big data hose derived from these wearables to study broader patterns and possibly uncover new indicators for certain health conditions.  Are there challenges to doing this?  Of course, but the willingness to take on those challenges is what will elevate these devices from mere toys to essential medical instruments.

The whirlwind that is SXSW seemed done in an instant.  But now, having taken a moment or two to step back from the craziness, clock in more than 3.5hrs of sleep, and reflect, some of its themes have started to become clearer.  Privacy, security, the items we wear on our sleeves’ and tote around in our pockets all have an enormous impact on our lives both now and in the future.  Though APIs may not have been at the forefront of these discussions they are an essential component to empowering these trends and making the SXSW’s of the future that much more exciting.

 

The Internet of Awesome

By: Rob Zazueta

The hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) keeps heating up, with several pundits already calling this the “Year of IoT”. Companies like Philips, Belkin and Quirky - who is working in partnership with GE - are racing to get their connected devices into your home.

The folks at Mashery have been keen on the Internet of Things for some time, and joining the Intel family has only amped our excitement. I mean, have you seen the Quark chip? It’s a Pentium-class computer on a single chip, which means it’s capable of running a full-sized operating system like Linux with little extra circuitry. Look at your thumbnail. Now imagine a small, black square sitting on top of it, but not quite covering it. THAT’S how big the Quark is. Just imagine what’s possible when you have desktop-level computing power crammed into something you can practically inhale!

The capabilities the IoT promises are not new. Early Web users might wince upon recalling the annoying, flashing, ubiquitous X-10 ads that popped up on every site. X-10 was a communications protocol that connected your entire home - lights, appliances, security cameras, etc. - using nothing more than the wiring in your walls. It wasn’t a simple out of the box solution - it required a fair amount of fiddling to set up - keeping it squarely in the hobbyist market. But it inspired many of those people to continue finding ways to make it easier to connect, control and communicate with their homes. 

The Nest Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat was among the first of the most recent batch of consumer-friendly connected devices to hit the market. The Internet-controllable LED lights produced by Philips have also received a fair amount of positive press. And Quirky’s series of devices - which includes an Internet-ready egg tray for the fridge - look both attractive and easy to use. For some, these represent just the beginning stages of an amazing, connected and controllable future. For others, like Pando Daily’s James Robinson, they represent humanity’s further slouching toward complete laziness

"If I can turn a light switch on using my phone," Robinson writes, "in the same amount of my time it takes me to reach over and switch it on, it doesn’t make it more impressive that I used an app to do it." 

I completely agree. It’s interesting that you can use apps to control these devices from wherever you may be in the world, but there’s minimal utility in that. It’s small thinking to believe that’s the power of the IoT. Don’t just think “connectivity”, think “interconnectivity”. 

Simply receiving an alert when your eggs are about to go bad or run out, as the Quirky Egg Minder enables, is not that useful. Unless, of course, you’re at the store. And your phone knows you’re at the store so it communicates with the Egg Minder to check whether you should buy eggs - all without requiring your input. Or, even better, when you’re planning dinner for the week and come across a soufflé recipe you’d like to try. Do you have the eggs the recipe calls for? A message hovering at the corner of your browser could tell you how many more eggs you need to buy. A push of a button and it’s added to the grocery list app on your phone. Another push, and the groceries are ordered and either ready for pickup or on their way to your house. 

Is this laziness? It takes my family no less than 20 minutes to run a few blocks down the street to pick up a couple of things from our local Safeway. The weekly shopping trip itself takes about an hour and a half. Forget the eggs - a crucial ingredient in a number of the recipes we enjoy cooking - and we’re looking at a weekly total of almost two hours. That’s time I could spend playing with my son, preparing the other components for dinner or writing a blog post for you.

The real power in all of these interconnected devices will be in the behaviors they enable. When my lights and thermostat are talking to my Tripit account and know that I’m out of town, they can switch into a low power mode, saving me money and conserving energy. When my garage door opener detects my wife’s cellphone in the driveway, it can open the garage, then turn on the lights leading her to the front door. If I’m concerned about security, I can require she enter a four-digit PIN on her phone that I’ve programmed directly from the garage door opener itself.

Perhaps these uses don’t interest or affect you. That’s fine - imagine what you might want to do and, eventually, you’ll be able to do it. It’s not the devices themselves, but how they communicate with one another and with other sources of information that will drive real innovation. And how will they communicate? With APIs, of course! Giving developers access to the APIs that drive this communication will be a boon for device owners and will spawn the same kind of skyrocketing opportunities we first saw with the Apple App Store. 

But it would be a shame if we left this solely in the hands of developers. If interconnected devices powered by APIs and controlled by application developers are the now, consumer-friendly device programming is the future. Sure, you could browse through an app store for the application that comes close to what you need, but what if you could program that behavior yourself? I believe this is the next, next thing in terms of interconnectivity and APIs - user friendly development. Programming interfaces like Scratch and the growing movement to teach programming in schools as a part of basic computer literacy already point to this user-programmed future. What finally emerges will need to be incredibly intuitive and user friendly, as easy to use as a word processor or a social media app. 

Imagine what happens when you put a tiny computer into everything you own. Now, imagine what happens when you - not a developer using esoteric code, but you - can program those computers to do anything you want. This is what’s coming. And it’s going to be awesome.

image

The author - in lego form - still dwarfing the tiny Quark chip (circled in red).

Hit the Road with Telco APIs

By: Kyle Riordan 

The car has gone mobile.  Well, alright, more mobile with telcos like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint entering the space to help make the car smarter.  The mobile car goes well beyond seemingly mundane hands-free calling and texting to include full diagnostic systems keeping the drivers more in tuned with what is happening internally with their cars, infotainment systems linking popular social applications, music and video services, GPS which not only gets you to your destination, but also tells you where you might want to stop along the way, and the ability to communicate with emergency services even when you physically cannot.

2014’s CES saw a myriad of exciting new partnerships and updates to the mAuto industry.  Audi even went so far as to take this marriage between cars and mobile literally, unveiling a 10.2 inch display Android tablet that has been specifically designed for in-car use.  The display connects with the car directly over WiFi and allows for passengers to interact with the infotainment system.  GM, not wanting to be left out in the rain, announced its newest partnership with AT&T to provide its 4G LTE bandwidth powering the Onstar HTML5-based platform “Connected”.  Available apps go beyond the expected infotainment to include a Vehicle Health app offering insight into vehicle diagnostics that can automatically schedule vehicle service. 

With cars getting smarter it only seems logical that the automakers would look for ways to connect that intelligence to the outside world.  Providing that linkage is an essential value the telecommunications companies can provide.

Telcos though are moving beyond just providing the wireless signal.  AT&T for instance is providing its “Drive” platform, which gives automakers the ability to select from a number of capabilities such as voice enablement, firmware updates, diagnostic tools, and global billing to settle charges between the automaker service provider and user.

For telco APIs, the use cases abound.  Take for instance the scheduling an appointment scenario offered by GM.  The in-vehicle app allows the user to select a day and time period (AM or PM) when they would prefer the service to be scheduled.  But what if I want more flexibility than that?  Telcos can offer SMS APIs to send me a text message later in the day reminding me to schedule an appointment.  Now I can schedule the appointment at a specific hour when it is convenient. 

Or even simpler, just let app builders leverage telco’s billing APIs to settle in-app purchases for their vehicle specific apps (or the bill associated with the connectivity to the car).  On its face this may not seem like that big of a value proposition, but with emerging platforms fragmented across different brands having this function ready to plug in can help developers become early entrants capturing the attention of users as they navigate an otherwise sparse landscape of in vehicle apps.

The tools telcos can provide could go beyond convenience to enable safety.  For example, a connected car outfitted with the right sensors could count the number of people in the vehicle, contact emergency services in the case of a crash, let them know where it happened and the number of people involved, even when the victims cannot verbally communicate.  Such an initiative is already being undertaken by companies like Rave Mobile Safety but to add telco specific value in this scenario, cars could determine the identity of the passengers by making a request to telcos’ user identity APIs, pinging the devices inside the vehicle and matching them back to their owners.  Now rescue workers can arrive better informed and more prepared knowing the identities of the people involved and (with linkage to medical systems) their medical histories and potential complications.

As telcos look more and more to offer these services, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that they have well managed APIs.  Just as in-vehicle displays require an intuitive interface, telcos need to provide an easy to understand portal presenting developers with the information they need, analytics to run diagnostics and check the health of their APIs, and access controls to ensure that they are in the driver’s seat of the API program at all times.

Telcos are helping the automakers drive toward the future.  The car is rapidly becoming a smart device and telcos are providing not just the connectivity, but some of the building blocks to that innovation as well.  The direction that innovation can take has as many possibilities as there are roads to drive.  Everything from turning your car into an on demand mobile cinema, to creating a safer network of roads by leveraging aggregated crash location information.  With so many avenues to take telcos, just like drivers with their cars, need to have full control over their API program and a clear vision of their roadmap.  Plan the journey, then hop in and buckle up, the smart car is going to be a fun ride.

Reflecting on Conversations with a Travel Tech Expert

By: Sasha Kamenetska

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a Mashery webinar with Norm Rose, Senior Technology Analyst at PhocusWright in which we discussed the role APIs & API management will play in the future of the consumer travel experience.  As part of his role at PhocusWright, Norm was one of the organizers of the Travel Innovation Summit at the PhocusWright Conference, which I was lucky enough to attend back in November.  Considering his focus on emerging travel technology, an area I have been researching for the past 6 months, you can imagine, I was excited to hear his perspective.

Perhaps the most interesting and striking aspect of my conversation with Norm, was his lack of hesitation in touting APIs as the key to the future of the travel experience.  That may sound strange coming from someone who has written about how vital APIs are to the travel industry several times, but his expert perspective really drove it home.  

As someone who has worked at Mashery for over two years now, I am a big API proponent.  I believe every industry and every company could benefit from well-managed, well-planned APIs.  Attending the PhocusWright Conference back in November, really solidified for me that APIs have a big role to play in travel.  But although the majority of attendees at PhocusWright knew what APIs were, many didn’t fully grasp the effect they could have on their business.  No one was talking about the transformative effect well-managed APIs should and would have on the industry.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear Norm Rose talk directly about APIs, API management and why major travel brands need to be paying attention right now.  The explosion of connected devices is drastically changing travel.  For a brand to keep up, they need to reach consumers wherever they are.  No longer does that just mean being on every device and platform – it means reaching customers in the context that they choose.  There are hundreds of travel booking apps, providing different experiences focusing on different customer niches.  In-destination apps are not far behind.  No wonder this past years theme at PhocusWright was “The Cult of Context” – that Norm Rose knows what he is talking about.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the Mashery webinar with Norm Rose of PhocusWright, you can view here.

Telco APIs: From Dumb Pipes to Smart Industries

By: Kyle Riordan

The telecommunications industry has fundamentally changed.  The paradigm used to hinge on a few crucial elements: coverage area, phone selection, and voice and messaging plans.  At first, the handsets got smaller, then thinner and competed on the physical design of their products.  Then devices started getting smarter, turning what most thought as a traditional cellular phone into a miniature handheld computer (an iteration made all but literal with the explosion of tablets). 

Much of this evolution can be attributed to the iPhone and has been further catalyzed with the entrance of Android devices.  The major carriers are not picky and, not wanting to ostracize Apple/Droid loyal users, offer both iOS and Android devices.  Major carriers offer comparable nationwide coverage and similar pricing eliminating the last of the traditional differentiators.

Now telecommunication companies (telcos) are looking for new ways to generate revenue, prompting them to look beyond their immediate user base to opportunities in supporting new industries.

Some of these industries may already be a part of your life and include: mAuto (mobile-enabled cars), mHealth (mobile health), and the connected home.  Some of these industries are more developed than others, but they are all fairly young with an enormous amount of growth potential. 

Major players such as AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon are already making their entrance into these emerging industries.  AT&T has heavily targeted mAuto, brokering partnerships with GM, Tesla and Nissan.  Sprint has followed suit partnering with Chrysler for voice enablement in 10 Chrysler vehicles with more to come in 2015.  Verizon, targeting mHealth with its Converged Health platform, is allowing doctors and patients to interact and share data over its HIPAA secured cloud.  And both Verizon and AT&T are attempting to connect the home to the Web, challenging already entrenched participants such as ADT for home security.

It may seem that these companies simply fulfill a relatively basic (though essential) function of providing connectivity.  But for the telcos, the opportunities in these new value chains go beyond providing just the network capabilities.  Telecommunication companies are providing an array of APIs that can help enable functionality easily leveraged across both established and new industries. 

Location APIs that work not only with smartphones and tablets, but any device that a given carrier certifies, can be an enormous value driver.  Location APIs help fleet mangers better track their trucks, show farmers where they are in their fields and even provide emergency responders the location of an accident. 

Billing APIs make it easier to monetize services or in-app purchases, allowing users to reconcile their purchase on their cell phone bill.

Messaging APIs still have their value.  Though there are numerous alternatives that are not carrier specific, carriers are still best suited to tying the subsequent messages directly back to the users’ unique phone number. 

In all, the landscape has shifted and telcos need to find new ways to generate revenue beyond traditional voice and data plans.  Many are already offering some basic telecommunication functions like messaging, but there are plenty of opportunities that telcos can uniquely provide.  Opportunities like being uniquely able to authenticate users against their device, offer data storage leveraging their secure networks and the mountain of user data they hold that can be plugged into any analytics platform. As the carriers work to maximize their presence, it remains certain that APIs are essential to securing a place in both new and well established markets.

Why Old School Marketing is Dying (and how APIs can help)

By: Sasha Kamenetska 

Last month, I was in San Francisco for work, when I received an unexpected wake up call at 6am.  In my drowsy confusion, I picked up the phone and was greeted by a chipper woman calling to offer my family and I a Hilton long weekend getaway.  I was given the option of three locations (none of which were on top of my destination list) and told that I was getting a very special deal for a family of four – all I had to do was pay for my stay up front, and then I could redeem it anytime in the next 7 months.  When I tried to explain that I was not interested, I was given an even lower price and basically told that I was crazy for not taking such a great deal.

When I finally hung up the phone (my drowsiness extended this conversation to at least 5 minutes), I was annoyed.  Why would Hilton be calling me at 6am?  Couldn’t they somehow figure out that even though I live on the east coast, I was actually currently on the west coast?  Also, shouldn’t they know that I do not have children (unless you are including dogs in that definition), and that price was not the issue here?  Couldn’t we have all saved ourselves some time and annoyance if Hilton had just done its homework?

I know that it sounds like I’m asking for a lot here, but the truth is, all this data is out there to be used and analyzed by the Hilton’s of the world.  From Facebook and Twitter activity, to credit card spending information, to your phone’s location, all the data Hilton needed to determine whether I was in their target audience for such a call is out there to be had.

I hate to pick on Hilton – they are definitely not the only company still employing old school marketing techniques.  But I thought they provided a good example why the old school model doesn’t work and should be abandoned. 

Many are skeptical about their personal data being used for advertising and marketing purposes.  And with good reason – no one wants their private information to end up in the wrong hands or be used for the wrong reason.  Data security breaches at big companies have been fairly frequent recently (Target being the latest example).  It’s scary to know that your information can be leaked at any time.  But the truth is, your data is already out there and companies are already using it.  Wouldn’t it be better if they were using it to your advantage, as well as their own? 

APIs can play a key role here.  APIs are what allow the likes of Gmail and Facebook to show you ads that are relevant to your most recent web searches. APIs would allow the likes of Hilton to partner with Facebook, CapitalOne & ATT to receive data on relevant users (or at least demographic groups) and use it to determine their marketing campaigns and whom they should be targeting.  With data security a top priority, companies can turn to API management solutions to ensure that the data they are sharing and receiving stays secure. 

The experience with my Hilton wake-up call fully opened my eyes (pun intended) to why old school marketing no longer works.  If Hilton knew more about me, they’d think twice before calling me to offer a family vacation promotion.  It’s time that marketing caught up with the big data, API-centric world we live in.  Until then, I’ll make sure to keep my phone on silent overnight.

Proactive API Partner Engagement

By: Sasha Kamenetska

When a company is launching an API program, there are a number of steps that they should go through: setting goals for the program, researching the market and competitors, creating a great developer experience, engaging with your API users and more.  An important step that sometimes gets lost is identifying partners for your API – even when you are just getting your program off the ground, it’s an important step to take to ensure your program’s ultimate success.

No matter what kind of program you are trying to launch (internal, customer/partner or open), you need to think through what your end users will be doing with your API.  “Partners” in this instance means the end users for your API.  Often, companies begin an API program with the mentality of “if you build it, they will come.” But the majority of the time, even with internal programs, research and outreach needs to be done to engage the correct users for your program.  

Start thinking about the kinds of applications, tools, services, etc. you would like to see built from your API by talking with your targeted customers, researching your competitors and reviewing your existing internal and partner API initiatives. Thinking through these use cases and the partners who will help you build them will ensure that, as you get your API program off the ground, you are putting it on track to be successful.

Once you outline use cases, start looking at partners who could make these use cases a reality.  Keep your search broad – be sure to consider a wide array of potential partners (internal teams, open developers, customers).  Also make sure that you keep innovation at the core of your thinking.  There will, of course, be partners and use cases that are central to your API program, but APIs open up opportunities that weren’t available before.  When you are looking for partners to help you expand what you can do, make sure you consider creative and new use cases or mashups that weren’t possible before that could help you get to where you want to be. 

Partners should be able to deliver on the use cases you have come up with.  Do the research to ensure that you are picking partners that match your criteria.  But remember, much of your API’s value lies in increasing your innovation, so don’t narrow your potential partner list too much.  Engage with the partners that you researched and that matched your criteria and discuss what possibilities are opened by your API.  The opportunities may surprise you.

Engaging Your API Customers

By: Sasha Kamenetska

When we work with companies to develop their API strategy, we have them start by looking internally at what their goals and needs for an API program are.   And while this is a key place to start, it’s not enough to stop there.  Once you have engaged internal stakeholders to determine goals and a roadmap for your API, you have to engage with your API customers to ensure that you are providing them with a product that meets their needs.

No matter who your API customers are (internal users, partners, customers or third-party developers), you should be engaging them on a regular basis to determine what challenges they are facing as they are using your APIs.  And your API users will often have different needs, wants, complaints, etc. than your internal stakeholders, even if your users are internal to your company as well.  It is important to know what they are thinking to make sure you are keeping them satisfied. After all, if customers aren’t satisfied with what you are offering them, you won’t have a successful program. 

There are many ways to engage your API users.  We often recommend that API providers hold roundtable discussions with their API customers to get feedback on the existing features of their program and input on any upcoming changes/additions that are being planned.  To ensure it is successful, an event like this needs to be carefully planned and the takeaways need to be well analyzed to provide actionable changes for your program.  A roundtable can be a great way to bring your most engaged/vocal/important customers to you, get their feedback and make them feel heard.  

API customer feedback should not be limited to a one-off event, however.  It is best to continuously engage with your users to ensure that every part of their experience with your API (from on-boarding to launching an app using your API) meets or exceeds their expectations.  Ask for feedback during every phase of your relationship.  Provide formal feedback forms at the end of the on-boarding process, request verbal feedback when you talk to customers in person and leave a channel open for them to provide feedback at any time.  By ensuring that you are hearing your API customers, you will not only make them feel valued, you will also ensure that you know what direction your program needs to go in.