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API basics: Apigee's Brian Pagano talks open API risks and uses

Apigees' Brian Pagano sheds light on API basics, such as when an organization should release its APIs, and how the technology is used in data management and analysis.

In this FAQ, self-described “Apigeek” Brian Pagano drills down to the basics of application program interfaces (APIs), the bits of development code that allow applications to communicate with each other.

In recent years, APIs have risen in status from simple tools in a software development kit to the keys to innovation in Web and cloud applications. APIs are now such important drivers for business software competitiveness that Forrester Research labeled this current computing era as ‘The API Economy.” So, it’s no surprise software architect Pagano has the title of VP of digital success at Apigee, a software firm focused on API management products.

What are open APIs and when should they be used?
Brian Pagano: Open APIs are available for anyone to use in building an app to get development-level access to some part of a proprietary software application. They often facilitate communication between multiple content providers. They can be used to add functionality from a third party -- like Twitter or Google -- into your application.

Internal use of an open API is a great example of how APIs are being used today. Placing a façade -- an API -- in front of each line of business is effective at cutting across the silos within the organization.

What are the pros and cons for CIOs and enterprise architects who use proprietary vendors' APIs?
Pagano: The use of proprietary APIs is unavoidable if you use a proprietary vendor’s products. But, fortunately, the risk is no greater than when using any vendor product. This is especially true if the APIs themselves conform to standards such as JSON [JavaScript Object Notation] -- a JavaScript page scripting language and alternative to XML -- over REST [representational state transfer], a style of Web architecture. Every company will have their own unique APIs, but these can still be standards-based.

Brian Pagano, ApigeeBrian Pagano, Apigee

When and why should a business decide to release its APIs to the general public?
Pagano: Releasing an API to the general public is a good way to invite innovation from a wide range of people. It is also useful in situations when it is desirable to drive traffic from as many sources [i.e., applications] as possible.

In what situations would a CIO and/or enterprise architect decide to create APIs internally?
Pagano: Use whatever you can out there -- such as Google’s mapping APIs, weather APIs, etc. -- first. Can’t find what you need? That’s common. It is simply not the case that any company will find all of the APIs they need available as open APIs. Businesses will all have functionality and systems specific to their businesses, and today they will expose that functionality as APIs. Design your own API for the functionality that is specific to your company.

When and why should a business decide to release its APIs only to customers and partners, not to the general public?
Pagano: It often makes sense to begin with an API [that is] only accessible to select partners. This is a great way to test out the usability and potential popularity of an API and to gently increase its scalability. There are also often legal and business reasons why specific functionality will only be available to a subset of potential users.

What are APIs' uses in data analysis and management?
Pagano: APIs have become the de facto standard for exposing and consuming data, and an increasing percentage of customer interactions flow through APIs. Every interaction at the edge of the enterprise generates digital intelligence, and applications that learn from this intelligence to anticipate and provide the right experience on the right device, at the right time, and for the right person, are the key to customer satisfaction and ultimately to turning a business from reactive to proactive.

About the author:
Jan Stafford plans and oversees strategy and operations for TechTarget's Application Development Media Group. She has covered the computer industry for the last 20-plus years, writing about everything from personal computers to operating systems to server virtualization to application development.

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