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The Why and How of APIs: The Partner API Model

Brian Mulloy
Aug 06, 2014

In previous posts, we explored how and why APIs enable digital acceleration, and delved into internal APIs and why they are often a great place to learn lessons about API strategy. Partner API initiatives are an excellent next step.

The partner API program incorporates collaboration with other businesses. Companies begin by working with one or two strategic partners, who will create apps, add-ons, or integrations with the API. Ideally, the API will have been tested and, because the API is used across organizational boundaries, the API team learns lessons about support, documentation, and authentication schemes.

Partnering using APIs can be useful in creating new channels, helping partner organizations to use your value proposition to expand into an adjacent business, or enabling a partner to complete its offering. They also enable deep visibility into business interactions with partners than can help inform and refine partner strategies.

Pearson is an example of a world-leading education company using APIs to connect with internal and partner developers to build innovative products that offer new ways of using and interacting with Pearson content. Pearson’s Plug & Play platform enables developers to easily explore and utilize all of their APIs. By offering this API-based platform, Pearson has made it easier to create apps and deliver greater value to a wider demographic.

Benefits of partner APIs

Like internal API initiatives, partner APIs are a powerful way to build knowledge before opening up your APIs to developers and customers. Here are several other benefits of partner API programs:

  • Extending a brand with new channels: The most obvious way of partnering using APIs is creating new channels. Netflix is a classic example that was transitioning from being a mail-order DVD provider to an online streaming media system. Their partner initiative resulted in the popular Netflix-integrated applications for the Web, the desktop, mobile devices, and TV.
  • Extending products and business: A strategic partner can use an enterprises value proposition or core offering to strategically expand their footprint. There are many cases across industries (such as the weather and the financial industry) in which APIs have facilitated this kind of expansion.
  • Completing product offerings: This is a simple use case where a business has an app or an API and needs something to complete the offering–say, a language translation service. A partner’s language translator API can complement and enhance the product package, making the company offering more holistic and valuable to customers.

After the API team gets comfortable with a few strategic partners, it’s a natural next step to create resource portals and automated systems for provisioning partner keys so that more partners can access and take advantage of the API.

Next time, we’ll discuss open API initiatives.

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