Today’s world faces unprecedented disruption and change. The digitization of every aspect of our life, economy, and society continues rising. To thrive in this dynamic ecosystem, an organization needs true business agility and innovation at scale. This calls for a new operating paradigm to drive digital evolution in the new world. This is where API-led connectivity comes in.
The future of business is composable, connected, and automated. Any successful future organization must adopt composability as it’s the means to resilience, adaptability, and growth in the face of change and disruption.
API-led connectivity is a methodical way to connect data to applications through reusable and purposeful APIs within an organization’s ecosystem. These APIs are developed to play a specific role: unlocking data from systems, composing data into processes, or delivering an experience.
Building blocks are the most fundamental unit of the composable enterprise.
- They have a clearly articulated purpose of driving a business or technology outcome.
- They can be automated and orchestrated with other capabilities, making them interoperable.
- They are discoverable, accessible, and manageable.
- They represent the “nouns and verbs,” or the “vocabulary” of your business.
It’s the API that converts a piece of software into a building block by enabling governance, manageability, visibility, security, monetization, intelligence, and discovery. API-led connectivity goes beyond the REST APIs to enable universal connectivity.
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Why is API-led connectivity important?
API-led connectivity is fundamental in driving business agility for an organization. It allows an organization to tap into the innovation done by other players in their ecosystem.
As the picture above suggests, a retail business leverages capabilities (shipping, payments, marketing, infrastructure, social media, sentiment analysis, geo-location, etc.) from other organizations in addition to its own capabilities to drive success now.
The flexibility in connecting both the internal and external building blocks to meet the business needs is the key to driving business agility. So when a new initiative comes along, rather than building the solution components, API-led connectivity enables the rewiring, reconnecting, and orchestrating of the building blocks.
The winner in the digital race is not the one who creates the fastest, but who integrates the fastest.
This makes API-led connectivity a critical integration strategy for an organization. The number of moving parts and the complexity of the technology and business landscape will continue to increase. So the traditional ad-hoc point-to-point connections often implemented as an afterthought will not scale. They have led to brittle systems that are prone to failure and prohibitive to maintain.
API-led connectivity, on the other hand, is future-proof and enables scalable universal connectivity. It changes the role of integration from a necessary evil to a business differentiator. It enables a flexible model for value exchange between building blocks, thereby allowing organizations to have agility in implementing innovative business models.
What are the 3 APIs that enable API-led connectivity?
API-led connectivity provides an approach for connecting and exposing building blocks in an ecosystem. Their scope can vary: within a specific domain, within a line of business (LoB), across an organization spanning multiple LoBs or geographies, and into the external ecosystem. There is a natural tiering as well that moves from the system of records to the system of engagements.
The APIs used in an API-led approach to connectivity fall into three categories:
- System APIs
- Process APIs
- Experience APIs
System APIs usually access the core systems of record and provide a means of insulating the user from the complexity or any changes to the underlying systems. They create the nouns of your business vocabulary into reusable building blocks. Once built, many users can access data without any need to learn the underlying systems and can reuse these APIs in multiple projects.
Process APIs interact with and shape data within a single system or across systems (breaking down data silos). They often represent the verbs of your business vocabulary. They help implement an organization’s processes without having to worry about the source systems where data originates or the target channels through which that data is delivered. They lend themselves very well to automation capabilities and Bots.
Experience APIs are catered toward delivering a delightful end-consumer experience. They get their power by maniacally focusing on the consumer and reusing the building blocks already created (typically in the form of System or Process APIs). Often built by a different persona, they can speed up delivery by working from the API specs built as a part of the design-first approach.
This drives a coherent omnichannel experience without having to go back to the system of records in an unmanageable point-to-point fashion.
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How does API-led connectivity work?
API-led connectivity is a critical element in closing the IT delivery gap and enabling the composable enterprise. Let’s use a simple scenario to explain this point: Suppose you need to develop a web app to provide real-time order status and order history for sales teams to engage with customers. Let’s assume you have customer data in SAP and Salesforce, inventory data in SAP, and order data in an e-commerce system.
In a traditional point-to-point integration approach, your IT team might aggregate customer data by wiring together customer data from both systems with code. Then, the aggregated customer data is further combined with order data in the e-commerce system to produce both the order status and order history data with more code. Now, these two data sources are hooked into a web app API which the web app can leverage.
This project might be considered a success because it was launched on time, on budget, and has the correct functionality – but does it solve for business agility?
If the IT team must build a mobile app, they aren’t able to use any of the work from previous projects. They have to start from scratch. Incremental changes become expensive, and soon the familiar and undesirable spaghetti code pattern begins to take shape.
But with an API-led connectivity approach, when teams must build a new mobile app, they now have reusable building blocks to start from (created from System and Process APIs), eliminating most of the work needed to build them.
Creating the mobile app, therefore, is a matter of rewiring instead of recreating. This makes it easier to innovate and add new services, e.g. adding shipment status information in the same way they accessed order status and history. This is the key to driving agility and adopting a product mindset as opposed to a project mindset.
API-led connectivity is not limited to just RESTful APIs; it also relies on flexible universal connectivity patterns.
How does API-led connectivity reduce IT’s workload?
As change and demands for digitization grow, IT finds itself in a tough spot. The number of new projects necessary to implement today’s technology and business needs measured against IT’s capacity to deliver them is spiraling upward. IT has to deliver on these ever-increasing projects and maintain legacy systems even as its resources stay constant. Eventually, what results is an IT digital transformation delivery gap:
Most IT decision-makers expect their budgets to stay the same or increase very slightly, so unlimited resources are not an option. This is where the digital paradigm of building a composable, connected, and automated enterprise is the way out. Rather than delivering on individual projects, IT delivers the reusable building blocks of the enterprise, and with the right tooling and automation, enables LoB folks to innovate as well.
API-led connectivity is the cornerstone of building this connected ecosystem. Every new project permits the creation of new building blocks. So when a new initiative comes along, rather than starting from scratch, API-led connectivity enables their reuse. This re-assembly can reduce the IT digital transformation delivery gap.
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Emergent benefits of API-led connectivity
When an organization uses API-led connectivity to build a composable enterprise, they can eliminate the IT digital transformation gap.
API-led connectivity allows an organization to tap into the innovation done by other players in their ecosystem. This enables businesses to be nimble and agile, not only in connecting to the right building blocks but also providing flexibility in the business value exchange models.
As the picture shows, it’s not just the technical flexibility, but this connectivity also enables the right kind of value exchange between building blocks. For example, if you adopt a freemium monetization strategy, you can have a different level of SLA for a trial customer and a different Platinum SLA for your Tier 1 customers.
Build vs. buy: Driving the business differentiator
API-led connectivity in the composable ecosystem helps business and IT leaders make the right build vs. buy decision. The choices made here, what to build versus buy or partner, have far-reaching consequences on the success of a project and its time-to-value.
Businesses build their business differentiator, which captures their intellectual property, which they can monetize. You can integrate the supporting domains into the composable enterprise. So the all-important build vs. buy decision becomes create vs. integrate decision enabled by API-led connectivity.
Drive the intelligent enterprise
Through API-led connectivity, businesses can have end-to-end real-time visibility into their data flows, thereby creating an organization’s central nervous system. This ‘business context aware’ visibility into the data and the related meta data enables them to see the forest for the trees and to drive network intelligence, analytics, and data science/machine learning models that were previously unattainable. It also lets the organization collect real-time business KPIs, which eventually help them measure and fine-tune their business operations and strategy.
Break data silos and enable Customer 360
This universal connectivity also helps break data silos. It lets you build a true Customer 360 with data attributes and sources that span across the entire ecosystem (internal, LoB, or external). APIs are the purest form of data: Context-aware, real-time, domain-specific, secure, and curated for consumption.
API-led connectivity also delivers a coherent way to engage with your customers across any channel seamlessly. Experience APIs drive a specific channel of user engagement. By connecting to the Process APIs as opposed to the systems of record directly, they drive a consistent user experience and make it easy to spin up a new channel.
API-led connectivity in the composable enterprise can drive any System of Engagement. The engagement layer could be a Salesforce Cloud, Slack, or any other technology component. This is critical in driving a consistent and coherent omnichannel experience for your customers.
How does MuleSoft enable API-led connectivity?
MuleSoft has pioneered the API-led connectivity architectural paradigm, which has now found universal acceptance.
The key part of the offering starts from the vision of driving business agility at scale by enabling the composable, connected, and automated enterprise, as mentioned earlier. The next part is the methodology: the architectural paradigm of connecting your organization’s building blocks using API-led connectivity as a key pillar to delivering on this vision.
It’s the actual product capabilities and continuous innovation to make the vision a reality delivered through the Anypoint platform and related product capabilities. It provides the most flexible ways of connecting the building blocks: REST Connect, Orchestration, RPA, BOTs, GraphQL, EDI, and more.
It supports various integration patterns: APIs, PubSub, EDA, ETL, ELT, microservices, ESB, B2B, SFTP, and others. A rich marketplace with pre-built OotB box connectors, templates, and accelerators for key industries and SaaS providers makes it easy to start enabling universal connectivity in your ecosystem.
The tightly integrated iPaaS, full API lifecycle, and automation capabilities help accelerate your digital transformation journey.
On average, MuleSoft’s customers found that the agility and speed provided by API-led connectivity led to delivering projects three to five times faster and increased team productivity by 300% compared to legacy or homegrown integration solutions.
Examples of API-led connectivity in action
Let’s look at real-world scenarios to understand the impact of API-led connectivity.
Financial industry: Multiple LoBs and omnichannel
Consider a scenario where an organization provides multiple offerings to its customers through four different LoBs operating under different brands: checking and account management, loans and credit cards, savings and investments, and auto loans. The four LoBs operated in their silos resulting in a broken customer experience and a missed opportunity to cross-sell and upsell the customer.
This is the illustrative three-layered ALC architecture for them:
They started their journey by creating a Process level “Identity and Authentication Customer” API, providing a consistent way to authenticate their customers across all offerings. A significant step forward in driving CX and a necessary step in its digital transformation journey.
The “Get Accounts, and Transactions” API in the Process layer was instrumental in driving a consistent omnichannel experience. It tapped into the four system APIs below: Core Bank Accounts API, Loans API, Credit Card API, and Auto Lease API – each representing the four different LoBs. This enables a holistic view of the customer’s financial health.
Not only that, but the same “Get Accounts and Transactions API” can now power multiple experiences: the financial advisor in the financial services cloud, marketing cloud, online banking platform, and mobile banking app.
Developers don’t have to duplicate the work of going from the top to the bottom of the stack repeatedly. This simplifies the architecture, reducing the long-term operational cost, and it’s future-proof. It gives the organization the ability to switch the core banking provider without having any significant upstream/downstream impact, thereby enabling a true plug-and-play architecture. It also allows multiple providers to co-exist during the transition period without disrupting the business.
This is a great example of how API-led connectivity drives a true Customer 360.
Transportation industry: Partner and supply chain
Consider a scenario of a company that provides freight and transportation services to mid-market clients. Their business strategy required them to onboard new partners quickly, so they built an EDI transformation layer using MuleSoft’s Partner Manager to cater to their partner’s different data formats and transport protocols. They ended up reducing the time to onboard a new partner from six to nine months down to 60 days.
This is the illustrative three-layered ALC architecture for them.
But the story doesn’t end there. It’s not just about getting the right information from your partner, supplier, or manufacturer in the door, but how you act on it with other entities inside your organization to drive efficiency, visibility, and actionable insights. That’s where API-led connectivity complements the traditional B2B/EDI patterns.
The System layer at the bottom unlocks the system of records, or the “nouns” of your organization. For example, you could use the OotB connector for SAP to unlock the invoice or the location data. The process layer orchestrates the System APIs to model your business processes. The Experience layer on the top is customized to deliver a delightful end-customer experience.
The beauty of this architecture is that each layer abstracts the complexity from the layer below and creates reusable building blocks. So the shipment 360 API that draws from order, transportation, location, and inventory can not only service the partner ecosystem, but the same shipment API can also drive up the customer experience by powering the service portals and mobile apps as well.
API-led connectivity-based architecture is built for agility and reuse.
How can I learn more about API-led connectivity?
To discover more about customers in every industry who have benefited from API-led connectivity, find out how API-led connectivity enables digital transformation.