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Why APIs? Anatomy of a Partner API Initiative

Brian Mulloy
May 29, 2012

Last time we looked at the archetype of an Internal API initiative, which is often the first stage in a company’s API strategy.

The second stage is often to collaborate with partners. A partner API initiative is one that focuses first on collaboration with strategic partners. Those partners create applications, add-ons, or integrations with the API. At this stage the API gets hardened and because the API is used across organizational boundaries, the API team will learn a new set of lessons including support, documentation, authentication schemes and so on.

Anatomy of a partner API Initiative

National Public Radio (NPR) is a good example of an organization that ran a successful API project focused on powering the internal website and partner collaboration first.

They launched their API at OSCON in 2008, targeting four audiences: NPR member stations; NPR partners and vendors; as well as internal developers and product managers and the open source community. The NPR API grew quickly and tremendously, from only a few hundred thousand requests per month to more than 60M.

The automotive industry is a good example of one that typically starts an API initiative with partners because of the demands of the complex supply chain in which partners are heavily invested, and therefore have significant influence over innovations.

Here we look at a few scenarios for the Partner API initiative.


The most obvious way of partnering and using APIs is creating new channels. Netflix is a classic example that was transitioning from being a mail order DVD system to an online streaming media system.

Netflix has been phenomenally successful in this space – starting first with the idea of an open strategy but finding huge success with partners innovating on their APIs by building their own Netflix-integrated applications for the Web, the desktop, mobile devices or the TV.

As a result, they are seeing unprecedented levels of market share and have driven a sea change in terms of how people are watching videos. The number 1 source of Web traffic during prime time in North America is Netflix movies, and the number1 target for those is the game console.


A partner organization wants to use your value proposition or core offering to strategically expand their footprint. It could be something that helps them expand into an adjacent business. We’ve seen many cases across industries like weather or financial where APIs have facilitated this kind of expansion.

Product Completers

This is a simple use case where a business has an app and needs something to complete the offering – say, a language translation service. A language translator API in this case can complement and enhance the core product.

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

Next time, we’ll look at what we call the Customer API initiative, mostly used in a couple of use cases where your customer demands an API. And finally the Open API Initiative.

API Management Decision-Making Kit

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