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Innovator Spotlight: AT&T - Using APIs to Help Developers Build Great Apps Quickly

Jun 08, 2012








AT&T, the world’s largest communications holding company by revenue, has embarked on an aggressive campaign to expand its internal innovation capability by opening up its vast telecom network to standard web application program interfaces (APIs). In doing so, it has accelerated innovation by allowing more developers to quickly produce apps that run on the AT&T network. Through the AT&T API Platform, which runs on the Apigee Enterprise API management service, AT&T now has a rapid deployment method for value-added mobile applications, many of which are designed by small firms that previously did not have the resources to commit to AT&T.

Jon Summers, Senior Vice President of Applications and Services Infrastructure, has led the API program at AT&T to help developers get up and running quickly.

What is AT&T’s API strategy?

By exposing our platforms and infrastructure capabilities through APIs, we can enable hundreds of thousands of developers to build great apps on our network, which ultimately we deliver back to our customers.

Why did AT&T develop APIs? What opportunity or need were you addressing?

We recognized that the pace of innovation in the software and services space is continuing to accelerate, and developers are building great applications. Our goal was to expose our platform in a way that was aligned with current web development practices while also speeding up the onboarding process.

What APIs does AT&T offer today?

We’ve offered messaging and billing APIs for several years. We’ve also added some new services. Probably the best example of that is the Payment API for in-app purchasing. If you are a developer of an application and want to sell digital goods within that application—such as widgets or services within a game that may make the game more interesting for the user—now you have a solution to monetize your app, leveraging our API. We also recently announced a suite of APIs around our AT&T Watson speech technology to allow developers to easily incorporate our voice engine into their apps and services. But whether the API service is old or new, what’s new across the board is the speed of onboarding developers so that they can offer new products faster. We’ve gone from months to days.

Who is the target user of AT&T’s APIs?

We’re targeting the hundreds of thousands of developers out there who are building both business and consumer applications. We are also leveraging these same APIs within our internal product development teams.

What benefits have you gained from AT&T’s API Platform program?

By transitioning to this model, where we decouple the layers of our network and expose platform capabilities via APIs, we can also accelerate the pace of innovation with our own finished product development. Rather than building capabilities in vertically integrated products, we’re building capabilities leveraging platforms exposed as APIs. This approach accelerates time to market with finished products, while increasing leverage and reuse of assets. So those are really the two big drivers, and ultimately it’s about delivering great applications and great services to our customers and doing it in a faster, better, and more efficient way.

The process we use to engage developers is very streamlined. It includes everything from the upfront business development activity, the legal process and contracting, as well as the integration process. It is essentially a self-service capability for developers, where we expose the APIs and tools that allow developers essentially to onboard themselves. 

How do you work with Apigee?

AT&T joined forces with Apigee to build APIs and tools that enable developers to build great apps.  We first met Apigee in the summer of 2010, and within a couple months had created working prototypes for the initial APIs. We introduced these prototypes and launched our Beta API program at the AT&T Developer Summit during the January 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. By January 2012, we launched our API Platform leveraging Apigee’s technology. The APIs are now available as web services, and the on-boarding process can now be executed in a matter of hours or days. Developers are taking advantage of these capabilities, as the number of API calls on our network has grown from 300 million per month in 2009 to more than 4.5 billion by the end of 2011.

What’s your vision for your API program?

The transformation that’s underway is about unlocking the value of our platform. By helping developers develop rich applications and create better experiences that in turn are delivered back to our customers, we create a win-win-win situation: a win for developers, a win for our customers, and a win for AT&T.

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