If you were doing some reading over the Labor Day weekend in the U.S., you may have stumbled across Guarav Jain's interesting TechCrunch piece "APIs Are The New FTEs." Guarav makes the point that often a modern SaaS service, in particular one with an API, can save an enormous amount of full-time work (think Moz, Intercom, Expensify and other huge productivity savers).
While I agree that APIs and the SaaS services they connect to can save a huge amount of day-to-day work, I look at this in a slightly different way:
- You’re not using the full power of your SaaS vendor unless you’re using their API. Many SaaS vendors don’t have APIs yet or at least APIs that are easy to use or accessible to people that don’t have deep technical knowledge.
- APIs can reduce workload, but the implication that they replace FTEs leaves out a couple of things:
- Those FTEs are likely with the SaaS provider you’re paying. Perhaps there are fewer of them and they’re more efficient, but the work is still being done.
- Hopefully what these APIs are enabling is more creativity, more value, and more innovation from your existing team—so you’re not reducing FTEs but doing more with the team you have.
The first point is something we see often. SaaS services perform tasks very efficiently, but they can also cause their own data entry and control overhead. Their real power is unleashed when integrated by API. We’ve seen this at 3scale.
Our own systems have been more tightly integrated with Marketo, Salesforce and other systems, and overall workload has gone down. Previously using all systems individually had arguably even increased the amount of work being done by sometimes making it necessary to enter the same data three times.
On the second point, there’s no absolute answer. However, there is hope that APIs are one of the building blocks that makes powerful systems accessible to more and more people. This doesn’t always work out, but APIs and the systems they connect to are massive productivity boosters. In other words, they help you achieve more with less. In the general economy, this can play out in two ways:
- You can do the “same stuff” with less people (Guarav’s headline speaks to this)
- The same group of people can do more
These seem similar, but they are very different. The former suggests a world where fewer and fewer people are required to achieve the same ends. The later suggests a world where more can be done but with small groups of people. Which world do we end up in?
The first view may be true as far as it goes, but the hope is that we don’t stop at our original goal. Our hope is that APIs and other tools such as Zapier and IFTTT are putting us into a world where more people can do increasingly amazing things with the powerful building blocks that are being put out there.
When APIs are easy to use, have SDKs, and connect to platforms such as Zapier, they empower large numbers of people to innovate beyond our wildest dreams. This “supercharged” FTE should be what we aim for!