Getting C-Level Buy-In: Demonstrating the Business Value of APIs

Mark Boyd, September 11th, 2013

A slideshare on the business value of APIs has been gaining kudos from enterprises around the world. Created by the international business consultancy faberNovel, the slide deck has been presented to APIdays audiences earlier this year, as well as being delivered at industry events like Hewlett Packard’s Innovision meetup.

After reaching nearly 80,000 views online in the past nine months, co-author of the slide deck Cyril Vart from faberNovel, speaks with ProgrammableWeb about the industry reaction to the presentation and what this will mean for the expanded use of APIs in business.

6 Reasons why APIs are reshaping your business: Or how to explain to your CEO why he should be interested in APIs is a presentation by Cyril Vart (faberNovel), Mehdi Medjaoui (Webshell) and Pierre-Antoine Durgeat (Novacodex) aimed at helping businesses understand the value of APIs.

In a recent VentureBeat post, Laura Merling, VP of Ecosystem Development & Platform Solutions of AT&T Business Solutions, wrote: “We are about to see a tipping point for APIs in the enterprise space”. She argues that APIs are “at the core of a cloud-based delivery model and at the heart of the connected business of tomorrow”. This has lead to APIs “just starting to show up on the radar for many large enterprises.”

It is a view that Vart shares. He has been using the slide deck to engage with global corporations to discuss the business value of APIs:

“When discussing the slides, I would say the topic is not completely mature on the business side of the game. So IT and tech departments are pretty savvy around APIs and the cloud, but I don’t think the message is yet getting through to CMOs and CEOs. The next challenge is to get the C-level interested in the topic, but there are some gaps to really understand what that means.”

Vart presented the original slide deck at APIdays events in San Francisco and Paris, where the audience comprised “about 80% technical audience and 20% C-level.” (The goal for organizers of the APIdays December 2013 event will be to achieve an audience balance of 50% tech and 50% C-level participants.)

“For the next APIdays, we have been getting lots of traction with cloud providers and when they are looking at the business side they all have the same problem: how to engage the C-level non-technical executive. It’s coming… There is a CMO I have spoken with from a large FMCG company on this topic, for example, but they are one of the only ones diving into the technical architecture and how it works. Still others are intrigued by the benefits APIs can bring but it will take the next 12-18 months to get everyone on board.”

Vart believes it is up to the API community to speak in more inclusive language and, where possible, throw out the preponderance of acronyms and tech terms:

“One of the challenges for us all as an ecosystem is to help C-levels understand they are welcome. In future presentations, I have swapped slides around so I don’t talk about APIs until the end. The real topic is about API, cloud and data and so we are describing this as ‘employee software’, that is, giving information in realtime to employees via smartphones and tablets. At the moment, it is still normal for 80% of sales staff in the world’s organizations to have to head into the office on a Friday afternoon and upload their data from a tower-case computer terminal.

In the short-term we need to show a few viable customer scenarios that show how access to inventory, customer care and sales realtime datasets can create short, quick wins. We need to get all the people who feed in this data on board and think about what quick wins and quick RoIs we can demonstrate.”

The lack of enterprise buy-in is a miscommunication that is already frustrating many API designers and developers. At the recent API Craft Unconference in Detroit, a session led by Kristopher Kleva focused on Why Should My CMO Love APIs? Session participants walked away with a list of talking points as to the business value of APIs that they could use to foster better relationships across the enterprises they work in.

Vart agrees: “A lot of CMOs, for example, are noticing they can use tweet data to optimize their advertising budget. Discussion of APIs in an enterprise can leverage those as an entry point for starting an RoI movement.”

The main take-home Vart wants to instil amongst API players is a lean startup cultural approach, even for large corporations, i.e. work with minimum viable products, and iterate following customer experience/feedback:

“It really needs to be iterative. Very big ideas tend to get stuck in the middle of an organization. They are overly ambitious at this stage. We need much more baby steps. As simple as: send me an Excel spreadsheet every night and I’ll turn it into a dashboard. Do that a few times and then say okay, let’s turn the spreadsheet into an API, etc. Focus on real business problems: that’s how a lot of ecosystems emerge is by solving real world problems.”

Top image is from the Slideshare deck by faberNovel, 6 reasons why APIs are reshaping your business, November 2012.
Bottom image is mind map of discussion in API Craft Detroit 2013 conference proceedings, Why should my CMO love APIs?
Cyril Vart can be contacted to discuss the ideas in his presentation via email.

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