One of the other threads that came up in my conversation with Tim Dunn earlier in the week was around the topic of APIs. One of the most significant technical developments that has accompanied the growth of consumer/social technology services in recent years has been how so much of it has been powered by openly published APIs (application programming interfaces – a set of tools to be able to allow developers to interact at a relatively low level with the data and functions of a technology service).
This has led to both interesting combinations of functionality from various places – mash ups of data and function – as well as driving a good proportion of apps development particularly on mobile devices (tools like Seesmic and TweetDeck, by example, that give a single view of data on a device sourced from multiple services like Facebook and Twitter). APIs lead, it seems in the open market, to innovation.
What can organisations learn from this – well, how many internal business systems “openly” expose APIs to anyone within the organisation who might want to use them? I’d be fascinated to hear of any examples, but my hunch is that most corporate systems expose their data in only very tightly proscribed ways and under very tight control.
The Traditional IT Manager part of my reels at the thought of making business systems APIs accessible within an organisation. “What about change control?”, “What about data integrity?”, “What about the loss of control?”… but if you have smart developers within an organisation, and you have applications delivered in a browser, then there are chances that they are doing it already. At a previous employer, there was a wonderful (if scary) moment when a developer in a client-focused part of the organisation was able to proudly proclaim that he’d hacked the universally despised timesheet system to auto-populate his time each day. The timesheet system was browser-based, so all he was doing was exploiting the way in which that website worked.
As much discussion in the CIO space seems to be concerned with IT being a centre of innovation within organisations, I wonder the extent to which exposing everything as an API might be worth more to an organisation in terms of fostering creativity and innovation rather than trying to run “innovation” projects.