In a recent interview with Cloud Elements CEO, Mark Geene, we sat down to discuss his vision of API distribution and how Cloud Elements is innovating in this exciting new space. We take a look at the current landscape of API proliferation, publication, and consumption, as well as why this is the right time for Cloud Elements to support this shift towards API distribution in the market.
Q: Let's start with some background on the history of API management and some of the initial challenges.
A: The first challenge of API management was to publish APIs and create good documentation. In the first generation of API management, developers were given the tools to simply publish their API. Since then, we have gotten very good at publishing APIs, so much so that we now have millions of APIs available - both public and private.
The next wave of challenges was to increase the usage of published APIs and drive the adoption. Traditionally, a developer would go directly to that vendor's individual site, which was limited to that particular company's developer portal, to find the API documentation. From there, a developer could engage the API, download the SDK, review the documentation, and work with the API to either build a new app or integrate it into their app or product. The main issue there was the limited discoverability of the documentation.
Q: What are we seeing as the next emerging challenge in API management?
A: What we are finding now, because there are millions of APIs that have been published to so many disparate sites, the industry is begging the question, "How do I effectively distribute my API?" Many new marketplaces (see more below) have emerged where developers can "shop" effectively for APIs.
Q: How do you define API distribution?
A: API distribution is the ability to connect publishers of APIs to the marketplaces where developers and ad hoc integrators go to consume and incorporate APIs into their apps.
Q: Can you dive a little deeper into what API marketplaces offer?
A: API marketplaces are evolving to make APIs more consumable to not only developers, but low-code users such as citizen integrators or line of business owners, to work with pre-built connectors so they can be successful in their roles. These marketplaces provide SaaS vendors the opportunity to keep up with the distribution challenge of getting their API out in front of developers. API marketplaces help alleviate the burden of API location fragmentation. Rather than going straight to the individual publisher of an API, a developer can go to the marketplace where many APIs have been "put on the shelves" and are ready for consumption.
I like the analogy of a bookstore: if you were looking to buy a new book, you wouldn't go straight to the publisher, such as Random House. You would visit a Barnes & Noble or go to Amazon.com to browse through a selection of books.
Q: What are the challenges for SaaS providers when it comes to distributing their APIs to these major marketplaces?
A: Each marketplace requires a different way to package up the API in order for it to be listed. For example, the requirements for APIs to be distributed as AWS Lambdas Functions (supporting a serverless architecture) is different than the APIs listed in Salesforce's marketplace, AppExchange, a business app store of thousands of enterprise and small business apps for developers and business users.
Q: How is Cloud Elements innovating in this new space?
A: At Cloud Elements, we focus on helping the publishers of APIs improve adoption by making them available as pre-built connectors, or what we call Elements. We're expanding the usability of APIs beyond just developers. One way we do this is by aggregating Elements into Hubs, which map resources from a collection of Elements into a uniform set of APIs. For example, if a user is familiar with connecting one type of API, like Salesforce, we make it easier to connect to other similar types of APIs (such as ZohoCRM or SugarCRM) from the same cloud service category (in this case, CRM).
The challenge of rapid API proliferation makes it harder and harder for APIs to be adopted, so our mission is to make it easier to combine these APIs into categorized ecosystems, or Hubs. We are applying that same logic to combining multiple marketplaces so that developers no longer need to deal with marketplaces individually. Our goal is to provide the means for developers to efficiently distribute their APIs without having to re-package their API for each different type of marketplace requirements. Once their APIs are available in multiple marketplaces, they are able to grow their revenue and make their product stickier with their customers.
Q: How is Cloud Elements able to support this new frontier? Specifically, the technology that supports API distribution.
A: We built a tool called Element Builder that enables our customers to create connectors (or Elements) from scratch or extend the capabilities of current integrations. Once Elements are created, they become available as pre-built connectors in our catalog of 120+ Elements. And now, within the tool, we've added a new distribution function that packages up the API to be distributed into other marketplaces.
This new enhancement significantly decreases our customers' time to market for distributing their APIs into new marketplaces and removes maintenance concerns as we automate the maintenance, monitoring, and version control of these connectors.
If you're interested in learning more about distributing your API into leading marketplaces or how you can improve your API integration strategy, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us.
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