An API (application programming interface) is a programming language construct that enables two applications to communicate or, as the acronym suggests, interface with each other. As such, they are a common boundary that facilitates integration between applications, allowing for the rapid and efficient sharing of information.
APIs are used widely in ways that affect the daily lives of most users of web applications. Consumers are keen users of the new breed of social tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn that enable high levels of effective interaction - and all of those services rely on APIs to deliver information and connect users.
APIs are key enablers for the extended enterprise that is a reality today owing to the widespread use of mobile devices and cloud-based technology delivery mechanisms. They allow organisations to share information with users wherever they are, using whatever device or platform they wish. APIs enable organisations to provide customers with real time information about their products and services, making customer outreach a more social, proactive activity that can provide the organisation with competitive advantage.
APIs are also the cornerstone for enabling the promise of the 'Internet of Things', where all kinds of objects will be connected via internet protocol, from smartphones to cars to household appliances to sensors in all manner of industrial equipment, or smart technology such as meters. Technology vendor Cisco has estimated that this could lead to there being some 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. APIs are also crucial for initiatives such as Smart Cities, which aim to promote the smarter use of resources and provide a way to give the public easier access to information. In order to make this dream a reality, open and interoperable digital services initiatives are required. In Europe, the European Commission is funding the CitySDK project, which aims to foster smarter participation, mobility and tourism, and which has developed an SDK with APIs that enable faster, more efficient application development possibilities.
There are many technology vendors that are actively exploring the promise offered by APIs. One such vendor is CA Technologies, which sees APIs as being crucial to its business, enabling its focus on mobility and mobile apps, cloud technologies, the Internet of Things and the development of smart technologies in general. It believes that APIs are vital for enabling the growth in opportunities related to such new, disruptive technologies and the promise that they offer.
To back up its vision, CA Technologies recently acquired API security and management vendor Layer 7 Technologies. The technology is positioned within CA Technologies' security business unit, where it is a natural fit with CA Technologies' web access management technology. However, CA Technologies states that it has broader implications beyond the use of APIs for enabling identity and access management capabilities. The API capabilities will enable more secure, accelerated application development and delivery in which security functions can be more effectively built into the software development lifecycle and more easily tested to improve the overall quality of software and applications. It sees a huge role for APIs in improving application governance and control overall.
CA Technologies is not the only vendor that sees the importance of APIs, but this acquisition does serve to underscore the overall importance and promise of APIs. As APIs continue to grow in importance, legacy applications and the data that they hold can be more rapidly repurposed to make those applications and the data available to all components of the extended enterprise - including mobile devices, partners, customers and developer communities-for the benefit of everyone involved.