APIs have become pervasive. We’ve moved from the days when people would joke that they knew how to spell “API” to APIs driving most of the apps, sites and tools we all use day in and day out. The ecosystems powered by APIs have grown by leaps and bounds, and with this growth, the types of APIs have shifted as providers emerge with specialities and unique value adds. Niche players have grown and API portals have expanded into various industry and functional categories. Many APIs and API providers fall into categories such as thin layer, transactional, or even APIs built based on multiple APIs.
In looking at the ever-expanding API landscape, there are some basic categories and axises to evaluate APIs. More than ever, API infrastructure is ripe for investment and today’s marketplace is being dubbed the ‘rise of the API economy.’ One of the reasons is overlap; APIs partner together and thrive off each other to function at the highest, most efficient level and drive each other’s success. As we have written in the past, the value chain has morphed in many sectors from a horizontal supply chain to an ecosystem. And this “big bang” has been powered by and enabled by APIs.
APIs at Work
Let’s use Uber as an example. In order for Uber to meet your needs as a customer it needs to allow you to pay ahead of time, have the vehicle locate you and ensure your driver knows how to get to your destination. To do this, it taps into a payment API (e.g. Stripe), leverages Google Maps to plot the route and then uses an alerting API like Twilio to make sure you know when your driver has arrived.
We can learn a lot from this example, as Uber’s success is driven by different APIs that use different key components to make a robust end user and driver experience. Uber perfectly showcases the use of thin layer APIs, read only APIs, and transaction APIs, as well as partners providing a variety of API management tools — monitoring, analytics, customer support, encryption, etc. All of them coexist and support each other.
API Landscape: Defined
Outlined below are four key categories we have identified in the API landscape. These all bring value and many market participants can and do leverage multiple providers from these different categories. FI’s are great examples of the the type of partner that taps into multiple categories. Many will work with an Apigee to provide a proxy layer, while also working with TradeIt to help open up their APIs to app developers.
Portals bridge providers and consumers and provide information about the API along all stages of its life cycle both on the front and backend. They not only offer tools that cater to developers, they allow providers to make their APIs public, providing consumer access to applications and credentials. And they’re on the rise. In fact, the number of APIs that Apigee’s customers ran on their platform climbed more than 160%, to nearly 36,000, and the traffic running through the Apigee cloud nearly doubled, to an average of 5.3 billion API calls per day at the end of last year.
Key players in this category include:
- Monitoring tools and dashboards
- Best practices
- Developer portals, deep with resources and documentation
With a consultative approach, Integrators can help you build an API with market requirements and specs. Integrators partner with you to easily bring the functional tech that is the API to your platform. These companies can staff a team for you to work through each aspect of your project and build, distilling services down to the basics to allow for easy building blocks.
- Consultative approach
- Spec and build APIs
- Bring the knowledge of best practices to the table
Screenscrapers offer a wide breadth of coverage among FIs. They go deep into the small and community banks for some of the widest coverage available. This space is active…and lucrative. (See Plaid’s recent acquisition of Quovo for $200M)
Key API Players driven by Screenscraping:
- No oAuth security speed bump
- Single turnkey API
- Screen-scraped access to multiple FIs
- Read only data vs. transactional
As platforms have emerged, ecosystems have become the dominant force vs. a traditional linear supply chain. APIs have helped to move this evolution along further. The Uber example above is a byproduct of the growth and development of these API ecosystems. Both TradeIt and Stripe offer the technology that provides the connective tissue of an ecosystem in order to bring together partners, but they do this by providing the transactional service required for partner A and partner B (and perhaps C and D) to work together — easily and with streamlined integration. API ecosystems also provide developer tools like an API portal does, but it’s not just a point of connection for data or content; it’s by bringing partners together via a transactional service.
- Multiple FIs
- Security vs. oAuth speed bumps and tokens
- Transactional, not a thin API layer
Gartner’s Magic quadrant provides another lens for evaluating the API landscape. By using quadrants for challengers, leaders, visionaries and niche players it compares the completeness of vision vs. an ability to execute.
As the ecosystem for APIs continues to grow with new players and providers — and no matter which type of API technology we’re talking about — there’s no denying that investing in API infrastructure, especially in finance, is growing and necessary. Understanding the unique selling proposition and value add of each is crucial when navigating potential partners. Companies that see the value in creating these shared ecosystems are setting themselves up for mutually beneficial partnerships and of course, financial returns.
Take Amazon, for example. They have a policy of creating open APIs. Their 33 open APIs have been combined with other APIs to create over 300 API mashups. Walmart, by contrast, has only one API that has yielded only one mashup. And while Walmart still beats Amazon in overall sales, it lags behind Amazon with less than one-sixth the online sales. “While there are a variety of explanations for these results, the differences in APIs strategy provide valuable clues contrasting approaches to innovation and customer engagement.”
First-mover Advantages Matter
The lesson we take from this research is significant. Do you have an API portal? Do you have readily available APIs for developers? Are you requiring APIs from your vendors? We encourage you to think about how APIs working together can enhance the end user experience and bring value to individuals where they are and through the channels they’re engaged with. At TradeIt, we believe building solutions and forging partnerships with this in mind, helps drive value for everyone in the ecosystem.