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Cloud, DevOps, and the API Economy

Ecosystems is a nice word; integration is not, yet you can’t have one without the other. Today’s ecosystems are made possible by integration based on APIs. That’s true whether we’re considering a business ecosystem of strategic partners or an operational ecosystem comprised of technology partners. Digital transformation today relies on the API economy, whether it’s external (business) or internal (operations) focused.

Modern technologies and business models are based on the API economy. True, cloud has intrinsic value, in its use of APIs to stitch together a mostly seamless operational experience for infrastructure.  But its real power lies in the ability to integrate and offer a variety of services that comprise its ecosystem -- a marketplace if you will.

DevOps, also has innate value in its approach and philosophy. Nowhere is the power of its focus on sharing and culture more evident than in the reality that there is no single authoritative toolchain for DevOps. Its toolchains are a buffet of tools bound together by the power of the other API economy: the operations-focused rather than the more general business-focused ecosystem It is integration via APIs that enables the smooth transition from one “phase” to another, from one “tool” to another. Handoffs are no longer e-mail or paper, they’re accomplished, or at least should be in the DevOps ideal, via an API.

My toolchain may not look like yours, but they’re both enabled by the same underlying principle that is the other API economy. From that we get “ecosystems” of integrated, ready to run toolsets and technologies across data center and cloud that provide the basis for the digital transformation of IT required to support the digital transformation of the business.

The speed and agility of cloud and DevOps both ultimately derive from their API-based, integrated ecosystem of services and capabilities that enable faster, safer, smarter applications to be developed and deployed. 

software globe

In my opinion -- though I admit some bias given my background -- too much attention is paid to the business side (profit) of digital transformation and not enough to the operational side (productivity) of the house. While you certainly reap rewards for paying attention to the outward-facing need to transform, the truth is that if you don’t simultaneously pay attention to the operational side of the house, you’re going to run into trouble.

Let’s say you’re wildly successful in your outbound efforts, and you’re converting consumers to customers like wildfire. How’s that support infrastructure working for you? Not just the customer support staff and capabilities, but the ones that are delivering apps and APIs and scaling to meet that growth?

Old, manual methods of meeting operational demand generated by the business and marketing aren’t going to cut it. You can’t hire fast enough, let alone continue to deliver and scale apps using manual methods to do so. Productivity measures will fall, which will drag down profits. It’s imperative to focus on both the external and internal need for digital transformation to ensure that one doesn’t drag the other down. The 2016 State of Digital Transformation from Altimeter notes that the top three metrics for measuring success of digital transformation efforts are:

  • 28% customer satisfaction (NPS, CSAT)
  • 27% web traffic
  • 27% productivity

All three are at least nominally, if not more so, reliant on IT and its ability to keep up. Customer satisfaction in a digital world means delivering faster, safer apps. Too slow, they abandon you. Unsafe? They excoriate you. Neither is good news for growth. It does no good to drive web traffic to a site that’s down or unresponsive. Productivity via digital mechanisms requires systems for which IT is no doubt responsible. IT can’t keep pace without some transformation of its own environment, processes, and systems.

That means IT needs an ecosystem, and thus the other API economy, to achieve the operational (internal) transformation required if it is going to keep pace with these efforts and contribute positively to success.

Business growth is ultimately dependent upon the digital transformation of IT from a manually-driven environment to an automated, orchestrated one. This is true whether we’re aiming for cloud or modernizing a traditional environment. That automation and orchestration is enabled by the other API economy innate to the containers, cloud environments, and even the app architectures a la microservices quickly consuming our attention, rack space, and budgets.