Truth, Lies, and APIs

It was 20 years ago I realized software will define the telecom world.  I was building a ranged and leveled repeater for a gigabit PON (Passive Optical Network); the great grand-daddy of Verizon FiOS.  The opto-electronics hardware was quite specialized, but the intelligence that made the system work was a large Altera FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array).  I was coding for the FPGA, not building hardware, at that point realized everything but the physical layer will be software.

However, such realizations and then world-wide adoption tend to take decades.  In the 80s and 90s I was using APIs on a range of software projects, back then they were called remote procedure calls.  We had a one semester software engineering course dedicated to them.  It was one of those courses you either got, or it remained arcane.

Fast forward a couple of decades and APIs are the fundamental building blocks of most industries.  From military, through healthcare and financial services, to the web.  And with any widely adopted technology a whole industry of snake-oil salespeople appear, making grandiose claims on what they can do and making the technology appear difficult and understood by only a few.

An API is a tiny bit of technology, its a HTTP request.  It enables one piece of software to easily use a service exposed by another piece of software, in the limit it enables one business to easily work with another business.  That is it, it removes technology and business friction, here is a simple example “”  Its so easy anyone capable of cutting and pasting scripts can use it.

So why has it been so hard for the Telecom Industry to adopt APIs?  The question is actually wrong, some telcos are successfully using APIs, and have created divisions dedicated to their APIs.  While others have launched API programs, failed to engage developers, and gone back into their ivory towers to lick their wounds, sulk, and never mention the word API again.

Some operators still focus on ‘deploying’ API programs when they’re really trying to create a service innovation ecosystem.  Some operators are realizing the focus is NOT APIs, it’s on delivering lots and lots of relevant and valuable services to their customers focused around communications, or that have an aspect of communications within them.  Creating an ecosystem (we cannot do it alone) of innovations (new services, new revenues, renewed relevancy) where the telco provides distribution (which matters more to innovators than APIs). AND supporting their customers in embedding the telco’s services across their applications, services and business processes.

I have always respected Layer 7 for their approach in API Management, they focus on being the best in class API Management platform plain and simple.  They realize they are part of an ecosystem, especially in Telecoms, and support all the other members, as we’ve seen with their pre-integration with a number of API publishers.  They do not make grandiose claims on the developer community they own.  No one owns developers, and for telcos its actually their customers they need to focus upon.

I’m not getting paid to give the “Truth, Lies and APIs” webinar, I’m doing this as I think the Telco industry needs to stop listening to snake-oil salespeople on APIs and build a real business for your local market, local is what differentiates an operator.  For the telcos reading this I am independent, I’m not trying to sell you a platform to make a sales target or sell the company at a crazy valuation.  I have been for the past decade and will be for likely the next 2 decade providing frank independent advice.  I know it is not always the words you want to hear, often the best advice isn’t.  Come join us on the webinar, it will be fun and I hope worth your time.