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Embarking on the Digital Journey: Best Practices, Common Traps

Nov 20, 2013

When a company is ready to move beyond tactical efforts like tweaking SEO and quickly filling the need for a mobile app, it’s time to take a more strategic approach to the digital opportunity, one that involves the use of apps, APIs, and data. There are ways to do this that mitigate risk, avoid common mistakes, and help ensure success for an enterprise along its digital journey.

Here are several things to keep in mind when launching your digital journey: 

  • Create a digital "layer" over legacy systems: An advantage inherent in an API strategy is that it doesn’t require a rip-and-replace approach. Rather, APIs can be viewed as a façade in front of  legacy systems; adding this layer fosters digital ecosystems by enabling developer portals and analytics. It also presents the opportunity to learn the ropes of the app economy and the market value implicit in APIs. A very powerful use case exists in the way an API layer helps you discover how to simplify the upgrade of your legacy back-end systems. It also makes it far easier to upgrade these systems without disrupting the ecosystem.

  • Build for an ecosystem: Don’t design your API to suit one app, but to suit many apps in an ecosystem. This approach enables innovation agility. A common trap can arise when there is a tactical need for an app or API and you outsource its development without an overarching API strategy. This often leads to results that have little purpose for the rest of the company.

  • Spread your best: Turning to a digital agency works if it is broad and capable, but basing your whole digital success and reputation on a single partner is an anti-pattern. APIs enable you to “spread your best” by implementing an API once and potentially feeding hundreds of developers in your system.

  • Be prepared for incremental change: Establishing an overarching strategy is important, but don't overthink all the details before starting out. This can be a sign of uncertainty over how to proceed, which often is the result of "analysis paralysis." Better to deploy a small solution of well-known value. On the other hand, don't get caught in the "polite fiction" of a pilot project, where an enterprise can get stuck in the experimentation phase and never scale its digital efforts. It's important to iterate and continue adding value as your API strategy evolves. Once you publish APIs and make them available to partners, these partners start to respond by asking for new features. It’s not a one-time project. It’s an active process of growing a part of your business.

  • Use your API strategically: You may have originally developed an API for partner apps, but they can be extremely valuable for internal efficiency and productivity. Bechtel, the construction, engineering, and project management giant, is a great example. It has enjoyed great success using APIs and mobile apps to grant workers access to project-specific data on mobile devices. APIs also can become a strategic tool in merger or acquisition deals, where they can make it easier to integrate key systems of a new company quickly. It's a way to discover a great use for your APIs and achieve an immediate return on investment.

For more discussion of these topics, watch the webinar, “Digital Strategy: An API-based Digital Future.” Many of these issues also are detailed in our new, free eBook, “Digital Transformation: Getting in Shape for the Digital World.”

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