APIs: The Bridge Between Your Best Ideas & Real-World Innovation

by Yev Galper, Head of Innovation as a Service, EPAM

June 9, 2017

The Bridge to Innovation

The majority of brands recognize that innovation has become a must, rather than a nice to have, for their enterprises, and those that haven’t may soon find themselves struggling to keep pace with their competitors. As innovation becomes more and more of a necessity, companies need to innovate continuously to stay relevant, employing modern techniques – like APIs, for example – to ideate, develop, validate and deliver ideas to the market – and do it at scale.

Besides enabling a variety of business models – like the ones that Igor Gorbunov covered in his recent blog, A Guide to Picking the Right Business Model for Your API Strategy – APIs play an important role in the process of innovation and offering new services, especially if a company is trying to cultivate a built-in bridge to productizing worthwhile ideas, rather than just scratching most of the hard work it took to get through the prototyping phase. In some development cases, a lack of APIs in a solution means wasted time and money, but in others, it is literally a matter of life and death for an idea.

The root reason for this phenomenon can be explained by a famous quote: 

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”  -- Yogi Berra

Now, let me explain with a few examples illustrated by common uses for API.

Four Theories in Practice

In theory, all ideas have an equal chance of getting implemented. In practice, we see that ideas that were based on APIs, regardless of whether they were generated by an internal innovation effort or at a crowdsourcing event, are more than 50% likely to make it to the pilot phase. There are good reasons for this. APIs make prototypes look real, because… they are real. They access real services and use real data. Besides, API-based hackathons and virtual challenges provide a nice structure and guardrails that lead to the generation of a higher number of relevant ideas.

In theory, you can develop a prototype or a proof-of-concept based on stubs and mock data. In practice, unlike API-based services and real data, stubs and fake data never cover all cases and variations of data. As a result, you might create unmitigated risk by building a solution that, once finished, needs to be completely reworked.

In theory, you can validate an idea by asking people to evaluate a clickable prototype with hardcoded test data or even a paper prototype. In reality, prototypes with real data enable people to see much more clearly how the solution will be used in the real world. Lo-fidelity paper prototypes and InVision-based, high-fidelity clickable prototypes are definitely useful in the early stages of idea validation, but they often fall short in the later stages of market validation, as they don’t provide real-life context.

In theory, you should be able to easily integrate newly conceived features into a product. In practice, I have seen cases where companies generated great ideas during hackathons, but then failed miserably to implement them due to long-cycle waterfall development processes and rigid monolithic architecture. So, these ideas stayed ideas until they became obsolete, even though at some point many of them had great potential.

Final Thoughts & Recommendations

In conclusion, I don’t want it to sound like APIs are a silver bullet, and that absolutely all innovation must start with them as a foundation – that’s not what I’m saying at all. Instead, it’s that APIs make innovation easier, and businesses need all the help they can get in that department.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get started. You can take advantage of third-party APIs and services, which can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, and move toward modular, services-based API architecture to create an environment where APIs are plug-and-play across your internal and external systems. It won’t happen overnight, but the long-term benefits are definitely worth it.

The best part is that, once you have the API piece in place, you and your company can establish a more effective, agile, multi-faceted innovation program that enables a larger number of relevant, high-quality ideas that are easy to prototype, validate, and, most importantly, deliver to end users. That’s why APIs might be the ideal bridge between your best ideas and real-world innovation.