Software architecture could determine the winners as businesses digitize

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Businesses worldwide are expected to spend well over $1 trillion on digital transformation this year, and more than double that by 2025. Today it is not only about the digitization of stationary and analog processes, but about the introduction of cloud-native architecture and microservices. None of this comes cheap and it’s definitely never been easy, but it’s necessary for any business that wants to thrive in today’s global and volatile marketplace.

While some tech-centric organizations are taking the lead, others — like the healthcare industry and government agencies — are lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation.

Business adoption of new technologies has accelerated over the past two years as public health guidelines have forced businesses to find new ways to buy, sell, and interact with customers and colleagues. But the digitization of large industries began years before. For example, as consumer tastes and expectations changed, it was possible for a company like Spotify to disrupt the old model of music delivery, causing hundreds of radio stations to struggle to stay relevant. Airbnb used software to change the hospitality industry, and Uber’s technology changed the transportation business forever.

We are in another phase of fundamental change, where technology enables brand new business models and renders older ones obsolete. In response, companies must adapt and prioritize technology to remain competitive and thrive. Software can no longer be treated as an afterthought. Whatever industry you’re in, if you have your eyes on the future, it’s time to think of yourself as a software company.

New way of thinking

Today, technology is just as important to a retailer or restaurant chain as it is to a software company. All companies must prioritize digital transformation, and while software is not a physical, tangible project, companies must invest in their technology like any other product.

One way to do this is to invest in Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are a powerful tool that help organizations stay agile. In short, APIs connect an organization’s digital infrastructure and allow them to share information with customers, partners, and internally. APIs unlock value for businesses through the automated exchange of information and services with others that can enrich experiences, add products, and even new lines of business. When companies prioritize APIs within their technology tool stacks, it can transform the way they do business, allowing even SMBs to remain competitive and adaptable.

With APIs, new integrations that enable new experiences and value for customers—which will become increasingly important over time—can be added without additional time or expense. They can even help streamline internal processes.

By adopting APIs, the laggards in digital transformation could better serve people by gaining more flexibility and responsiveness, both things they struggle with today.

Shifting focus to APIs as a new and separate discipline helps expand digital offerings, allowing businesses to easily adapt and emerge winners, just like Spotify. You will no longer be annoyed if a software system in the schoolyard cannot interact with another system. APIs are like the teacher that makes them get along.

The most important thing for any business is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of current technology assets and then work on a strategy that is coherent and works with all relevant departments from IT to business strategy. The software architecture strategy should become a central point in the digital evolution of your company and not isolated from the work and planning in other departments. It needs to sit alongside the other elements of your company’s roadmap.

Take a design-first approach to your software integration strategy

When developing the strategy, start by prioritizing APIs over software. Then you turn a traditional concept on its head: instead of being “code first” or starting the API creation with the necessary coding, try a design-first approach. That means creating a comprehensive plan for what will be built before writing a line of code. This allows for a better developer experience, increased consistency, cost savings, and even improved security. Think of the relationship between a design and a finished building, and you can see how building something great begins with the design, not the laying of the bricks.

Humans and computers alike need to be able to understand and interact with the API, and its design will inform the development of any digital tool your company creates in the future.

To get the most value, involve every team in your organization in the development of an API, from your developers to your security team to your executives (executive involvement in your API program is key!). Even the least technically savvy people will have concerns and ideas that need to be considered before the coding work begins. If the whole team understands and appreciates the API, business partners and customers will too.

Build the API in a way that maximizes the benefit of everyone in your business, because the days when only tech giants and software innovators were “API companies” are long gone. Today, over 83% of all web traffic comes from some form of API and 90% of developers use APIs. If your business needs to reach a digital audience for some reason or with some regularity, become an API company. If you want to thrive and remain competitive in this hyper-digital age, you need to think of yourself as an API company and strategy accordingly.

APIs are proliferating, and any company that still treats them as a side issue risks being left behind. Anyone who gets involved remains adaptable, expands their range of technologies and no longer fears the future, but helps to shape it.

Steve Rodda is the CEO of Stoplight.

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