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Connecting applications in the API economy

In this podcast, MuleSoft's Ross Mason discusses the rise of the API economy and why APIs play a key role in IT's burgeoning effort to connect assets to customers.

We are living -- and computing -- in an era that has come to be called the API economy. Ross Mason, MuleSoft Inc. founder and vice president of product strategy, says this economy is for real and that it's all about connecting applications, data, platforms, clouds and devices via APIs.

"The API economy is the sum of digital transactions between two or more parties over an API. Increasingly, APIs are becoming more important to the way they build applications," Mason says in the podcast. MuleSoft, based in San Francisco, sells API-related platforms.

The enterprise that builds and manages its own APIs not only speeds connectivity, it lays the groundwork for avoiding problems than can occur when new versions of applications are deployed. APIs ensure that the data extracted from one application is formatted and passed to the next without change, even as application functionality and file formats evolve over time.

Cloud and mobile computing are leading to changes in the very nature of IT, Mason says, making the use and proper management of APIs an increasingly essential aspect of their operation. "The role of IT is no longer to connect back-office, heavyweight systems with heavyweight middleware; it's now about unlocking assets and connecting with audiences, whether it's customers, suppliers or internal employees."

The role of IT is … now about unlocking assets and connecting with audiences.
Ross Masonfounder and vice president of product strategy, MuleSoft

In Mason's view, the right way to connect assets and audiences is to have an approach -- data governance -- for organizing the capabilities being unlocked and to be clear about who owns each asset and which individuals or defined groups have access. Until a few years ago, the very role of connectivity was largely an afterthought, Mason says. "People would write custom code to connect one thing to another" in point-to-point fashion. Though easy to do, companies largely look back on the practice of hard-coding connections, or conduits, as a bad idea that necessitated intricate reworking prior to installing a new version of an application. "It's in direct conflict of doing the right thing versus the fastest thing."

Thanks to software as a service and the need to stay connected to thousands of device endpoints, that old method no longer works, Mason says. "What the API offers is a humble approach, a normalized interface to access resources."

As public, private and hybrid cloud computing sweep through the IT industry, one consequence is that the number of data, app, platform and device connections that must be made has soared from dozens to hundreds. Mason sees this leading to a likelihood of "brittleness" in which a less forgiving environment results in more places for more things to go wrong.

In this podcast, MuleSoft's Mason also notes that of the three API types -- experience, process and system -- the third should be used as decentralized access to core assets, yet must be applied in a manner that empowers line-of-business departmental users while leaving IT in firm control.

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