The benefits of an open data approach

Published on the 28/10/2015 | Written by Jonathan Stern

open data policy

The rising adoption of mobile technology in the business world, says Jonathan Stern, is causing growing challenges for IT departments…

On one hand, employees are demanding access to core applications and data stores from their mobile devices. On the other, customers are also expecting to be able to interact with the business at times and from locations convenient for them.

The result is an enterprise IT landscape that is becoming increasingly fragmented. Connections need to be established with thousands of smartphones and tablets, and traditionally protected apps and data exposed to the outside world.

This is happening at the same time as great change within the business’s technology infrastructure. Where once all apps and data were held within a corporate data centre, now they are increasingly being shifted to external, cloud-based facilities.

These trends are resulting in many businesses undertaking digital transformations. They are keen to have the infrastructure in place that will meet the challenges while also supporting business activity in the future. To do this well, companies need to have a strategy in place for connecting their digital assets in different ways as their operational needs change.

Taking an open data approach
Increasingly, businesses are coming to realise that the best way of tacking the challenge of digital transformation is to take an open approach to data. This, in turn, will allow the fluid exchange of information between internal systems and those belonging to third parties.

The most effective way to accomplish an open data strategy is through the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Once in place, appropriate APIs can support a move to a more connected business environment.

Businesses can also create new revenue opportunities by leveraging APIs to make the most of digital technologies.

Big business benefits
The business benefits of API use can be significant. For example, travel booking company Expedia has an API that allows people using third-party websites to make use of its functionality to book flights, cars and accommodation. Nearly half of Expedia’s $US4 billion annual revenues is generated by delivering its services to partners through affiliate APIs.

APIs can also help improve the functioning of internal business systems. For example, they can facilitate the flow of information from legacy, in-house systems into cloud-based software-as-a-service facilities such as Salesforce.

On the technology vendor front, many players are using APIs to differentiate themselves from their competitors. By highlighting the simplicity and power of their API, they sell themselves on their ability to easily connect with the systems of prospective clients.

For example, APIs can help a company connect its mobile app or a public facing e-commerce site to marketing and sales automation systems, significantly streamlining back-end processes.

Businesses can also reach new groups of potential customers by pairing their application with the API of another company operating in a similar industry. For example, United Airlines has recently started to use Uber’s open API. From within the United Airlines app, customers can synchronise with their Uber account. In the event of a plane delay, the API communicates to the Uber app to delay a driver’s pickup time. This capability opens up a whole new ecosystem of connectivity for United and will drive new revenue opportunities.

It’s clear that all businesses will eventually deliver services through APIs, both to their customers and their internal teams. The trend will cause a change in the way we think about how to manage a business. With an API-led approach, companies can say goodbye to conformity and undertake the digital transformation they need.

A journey, not a destination
Businesses need to be aware that there is no ‘right’ moment to start on a digital transformation journey. Instead, they simply need to make a start as part of their next IT project.

Digital transformation is about making changes in technology, process and culture. For this reason, taking small steps with an ongoing focus on change is the best approach.

A successful strategy will enable a business to self-serve data without having to go through the central IT department every time. As a result, the IT department will become a platform for the business rather than responding to requests in a project-to-project fashion.

As a first step, the IT department can offer APIs for many of the data sources requested by the business for reporting or building new applications for consumers or partners.

Having a connectivity platform strategy will enable a company to unlock the value of its data assets internally and externally through APIs, allowing both employees and partners to build innovative products and applications.

A good connectivity platform will also allow a company to adopt new technology more quickly and integrate it into existing processes. With this approach, tackling the trends and changes of the future will become much easier.


Jonathan Stern is regional VP, ANZ at MuleSoft.

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