Algorithmic Retailing

The Plug and Play Enterprise: Boosting Business Agility in Retail with APIs

 
March 18, 2020

Part 2 of a 2-part series exploring how the disciplined use of APIs can make retailers agile and ready to adopt new business models. Read Part 1.

In the face of evolving customer expectations and shifting competitive dynamics, only those enterprises that demonstrate improved decision making and customer-centricity, and are willing to overcome the barriers of legacy systems are likely to thrive in a hyper-connected world. And, APIs are fully poised to support these new business imperatives.

Faster business decisions: The best of digital businesses expose data and functionality through APIs. This pushes developers to think deeply about the architecture of the applications and expose meaningful APIs to peers and partners. With each new software milestone, enterprises are moving away from the model where IT departments are solely responsible for giving the ‘go–no go’ on systems integration. An enterprise API catalog helps retail business leaders take decisions on new business or brand promotion models, as they are now confident of being able to connect to various types of data and services―even if there are several different IT systems running within the enterprise.

Better understanding of customers: Customer data may be kept in different systems: at the store level, online, or as campaign-based data capture. Omnichannel experiences need integration of data from different systems and a strong API culture within the developer network enables this extensively.

Legacy modernization: Digital transformation programs are enabling enterprise IT to break monoliths and go the microservices way. API-fication of legacy systems (extraction of APIs from legacy systems and managing these through an API layer) is going to play a big part in this.

The Enterprise API Program

Large enterprises typically have thousands of applications, potentially publishing APIs, leaving retailers with tons of APIs to manage. Internal APIs have to be managed with the rigor of a product; they require an interactive business relationship, proactive support, and a deep engagement model.

Enterprises do not often create new APIs from scratch. They expose the not so well-designed existing services, typically based on messaging protocols like Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) or other protocols, as APIs. These services expose various back-end systems. While enterprises embraced SOAP, the associated technologies to publish these services, such as Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) and Service Registries, have proven to be complex―they provide the right kind of control, security, and governance model for sensitive internal services but make it difficult to discover and consume them. As a result, service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology adoption within the enterprise has remained limited. Also, SOA services are more typically exposed within the enterprise (internally focused), generally based on a funnel of projects and their respective known requirements.

Internal APIs, on the other hand, make it easier for developers to discover and consume these internal services. An internal API catalog combines the collaborative, open practices of external API portals with search, controlled visibility, selective provisioning, and integration with enterprise security that are required for internal development. An API management platform can provide a complete solution to overcome the challenges of managing enterprise APIs, allowing an enterprise to attract developers and partners; provide documentation and seamless onboarding and testing tools; offer support and collaboration tools to foster communication and handle issue resolution; and provision an infrastructure that allows an enterprise to benefit from external developers without undue risk.

An enterprise-wide awareness program can also help in efficient management of APIs. As a whole, the enterprise API program should:

  • Enable developers to create, secure, control, deploy, analyze, and manage APIs and services for quick internal or external consumption.
  • Guide application developers in discovering and understanding the APIs to help them consume the APIs, manage their application, and understand its consumption.
  • Educate business owners on the potential of APIs in advertising, marketing, and socialization.
  • Help IT operations staff to easily manage and upgrade the API environment with the ability to monitor and scale without disruption to service.
  • Highlight the potential of revenue generation by selling APIs as a product in developer communities (private, partner, and public) worldwide.


Conclusion

The retail industry is no stranger to transformation; it has grown through a series of innovations in the last century ranging from brick-and-mortar changes and new management methods to technology adoption. The issue now is that disruptions are faster. Shopping patterns are changing. Consumers are smart but fickle, and competition within the industry is heating up. Lines between retailers and manufacturers are blurring and packaged goods are sold directly to customers.

These are enough reasons to look for business model innovations on the fly, making agility an essential part of the retail industry’s survival kit. A strong internal API culture can make retailers agile and ready to adopt new business models.

G Suresh Kumar is the Head of TCS CUBO Marketplace, a cloud-first platform that allows creation of business ecosystem through open collaboration with industry partners. An Electrical and Electronics Engineer, he has more than 15 years of work experience in TCS in managing Innovation Labs, large accounts, mobile technologies, and telecom infrastructure marketing.