How APIs connect the world to the IoT

How APIs connect the world to the IoT
How APIs connect the world to the IoT

The fourth industrial revolution brings with it literally billions of connection points – and the channel for interconnection is APIs.

London played host to Apigee’s ‘I ? APIs’ this month in the picturesque but ever-so-cold Tobacco Dock venue in London’s rejuvenated Docklands area. The event itself was staged to explain how APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) work in the new world of digital business revolution. 

What are APIs, anyway?

As I have explained elsewhere, APIs exist to establish a vital communications bond between different software program elements and data streams. APIs define the route for a programmer to code a program (or program component) that will be capable of requesting services from an operating system (OS) or other application.

The flow of data goes something like this: a user powers up a device, a user starts up an application, an application API connects the core application to other services, data, components of information or connected processes and calculations.

In other less technical words, the API connects the user’s application to all the elemental service functions and things that we want to interact with when we are online.

A news website plugs into an API to get third party weather information, while a camera app plugs into a social media application to broadcast and ‘share’ images. A currency exchange application plugs into a stock market live prices index API to provide market values.

The fourth industrial revolution

If we accept that we are now in the throes of the fourth industrial revolution (1st mechanisation, 2nd mass production, 3rd automation & the PC era, 4th robotisation) then the advances we are about to see come forward will be multifarious and massive.

We are on the cusp of witnessing massive innovation in nanotech, IoT, 3D printing, robotics, biotechnology, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, energy storage and much more. As users, we will have the chance to connect billions of people to these technologies through the power of APIs, so long as we do it right.

Apigee CEO Chet Kapoor has said that demand for better digital experiences through API connections has grown from a murmur to a roar.

“Across the enterprise today, consumers, employees and partners all want to seamlessly connect with services and experiences at any time — wherever they are… and they want to do so across multiple devices and platforms,” he asserts.

“We believe that digital transformation has reached an inflection point — that every industry now understands that APIs are the key to corporate survival in our increasingly digital world. The robust growth of API traffic in the enterprise suggests that this change is beginning,” added Kapoor.

Real-world IoT examples

Evidence of, and validation for, Kapoor’s enthusiasm comes in many forms. Emirates NBD bank revealed it has started offering better bank deals (including free insurance and extra rewards) to customers who walk more with their Fitbit-style tracker. It’s called the ‘Fitness Account’, of course. The wrist-based device connects to the bank management software through APIs.

Players can now order pizza directly from you’re an Xbox and Minecraft players are starting to connect their game usage to their home lighting systems. The need to connect ‘things’ in the Internet of Things (IoT) has never been greater it appears.

For want of a bigger picture example, consider the fact that a petrol tanker costs 80 million dollars to run per year in terms of oil. What if we could use more sensors to track the behaviour of El Nino and optimise its travel routing more accurately in an optimised way? The same thing is already happening with the airline industry in terms of route.

Connecting on-board ship sensors to weather data channels to on-board navigation systems to worldwide shipping applications doesn’t happen without a connection point. You can guess by now what that connectivity conduit might be.

Speaking at the Apigee event was Jack Ramsay, global technology delivery director at Accenture Digital Business Group. Ramsay told the audience that in the next decade we will see a lot of large companies disappear. The suggestion and implication here being that API connectivity will enable new digital business channels and send a lot of old style businesses to the wall.

As a wild example — 3D printing will be extremely disruptive because a) the systems are getting faster b) they are getting cheaper c) they are starting to become multi-material d) they will be able to source materials in situ and ‘create’ where they stand…. This could mean being able to print building materials on the moon with raw materials that exist right there. As these devices connect to data streams (via APIs), the new world of digital business starts to come online.

Sneakers-as-a-Service

Think about a world where you don’t buy shoes anymore. Consumers will soon move to a point where they simply 3D print the shoes that they need on their home multi-material printers. This will be especially useful for people with irregular feet, narrow or wide fittings, unusual insteps etc. What we will pay for is the Intellectual Property in the designs of the shoes we select. Your shoe design app will connect to design services via APIs and the cost of the materials will be less significant.

The big change overall is a move away from the old notion of a linear value chain… you build a product, you reach out to consumers and you go to market. We used to exist with top down hierarchical process driven frameworks with silos to house functions from finance to staffing etc.

We did the same thing with IT when we started – we created silos for ERP, CRM, BRM and so on.

But the IT era old the 3rd Industrial revolution has ended… a new fourth era of digital business model disruption has begun and it is connected and intelligent. The API is a core component of this change, especially for the future of IoT.


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I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.