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Digital transformation is hard. Especially when all of your data is spread across hundreds or thousands of systems. How do you connect them all and work faster and more effectively across the business? Lindsey Irvine, the SVP, CMO of MuleSoft, joined us on this episode of IT Visionaries to explain the answer: APIs and broad integration.
Best Advice: “Focus on the team.”
- What are APIs and why do we need them?
- Some API use cases
- The challenges of integration
Lindsey’s start in tech
Initially, Lindsey worked in the healthcare field with the goal of “saving the world and changing the healthcare system.” She quickly realized that technology would be necessary to achieve those lofty goals, so she started a health IT company. She eventually found her way to Salesforce, which she was drawn to because of the company’s mission to be a platform for change.
The future of APIs and integrations
There is a common statistic that the average enterprise has more than 900 systems. Finding a way to connect and integrate all of those to create a usable workflow is a huge job. This problem has been around for a very long time. There has always been a need to integrate data from one place to another, but it’s more important now than ever because of the amount of data and because of the way that data rules every part of a business. And, because of the move to the cloud and the creation of even more apps, there is data in more places than ever, so the integration problem has become harder. APIs are the solution to the problem. They provide ways to connect, integrate and unlock data, which gives you building blocks to perform tasks and work on projects.
As APIs are built, they are added to the marketplace, which is available for anyone looking for APIs to solve problems. Rather than building from scratch, enterprises can use APIs already in the marketplace, bring them into their systems, and even build them out even more, then return the API to the marketplace with the built-out additions for others to use in the future.
“The reason this is so strategic right now and such a hot topic is because the business is under phenomenal pressure to change, to go faster, to do more, to innovate and to digitally transform. Every industry is in the midst of this digital transformation. And at the center of it is the customer saying, ‘Hey, I want an integrated connected experience. I want for my healthcare company, my financial services company, my consumer goods company, I want that consumer experience. I’ve come to expect.’ And in order to deliver that, you need data that is trapped in all of these on average 900 systems — of which only 29% are connected. So how do you unlock the goodness of data across systems to deliver on the connected experiences of today’s customers and to help your business digitally transform?”
“Say a business analyst or an architect in line of business has an idea of a problem they want to solve for a customer. They can now go get that API that’s owned by it and governed by it and use it to drive customer experience. So IT gets to still kind of hold the keys to the data kingdom if you will, but they can now unlock that and expose it to the rest of the business in a way that lets everyone innovate outside of the four walls of it. And that becomes critical. It actually makes it a strategic enabler of innovation as opposed to what is otherwise seen today as kind of the barrier to innovation.”
“We don’t see customers starting with this notion of building a full application network. They pick a hard problem that the business needs to solve. They understand what systems are needed, what data is needed to solve that problem, what are the kinds of business processes and what is that front end-user experience. Then they go build that with a set of APIs. Then they post those APIs to what we call the exchange. Think of that as the marketplace for APIs, the app store for APIs, which means when they have the next hard business problem, instead of building from scratch, where do they go? Their marketplace for APIs. They pull from what’s there, they add to it and then they build a few more and they post it back. So then you start to get this flywheel effect which lets you do more, do faster and over time you can then start to kind of get off the old legacy infrastructure
Use cases for APIs
One of the big use cases Lindsey brings up is that of Unilever, which is one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. As a traditional B2B company, Unilever was lacking a connection to its customers. But in order to build a relationship, there would need to be a shift in the business model that would take it from B2B to personalized B2C. That required the integrations of hundreds of systems across thousands of products and business units, a process that required APIs which could provide a connection between data on who customers are, what they are buying and why.
Lindsey also brings up Ashley Stewart, which wanted to restructure its business model and do a digital transformation. They did so by using APIs and were able to achieve massive growth. And McDonald’s also used APIs to solve for the problem of Uber Eats taking some of its market shares by finding a way to integrate through the app.
“What MuleSoft and Unilever do is actually connect data across all their systems. So the first question was, ‘How do I get insights on what my shoppers are buying?’ So they connected that data, but they took an API led approach to connect that data. So they built an API so that they could reuse it for other projects instead of custom coded. The next project was, ‘I want to take that shopper data and I want to combine it with every other thing I know about my customer.’ Well that data lived in a lot of different places, including Salesforce. So they used that single API and then they connected it with data from other systems to build a single view of the customer API.”
“If you build a project at a time and API at a time, what emerges is this concept of an API economy and application network that lets you go faster and do more.”
The challenges of rolling out an integration strategy
The number one reason that projects fail, Lindsey says, is because of integration problems. Lindsey reposts that customers will come to Mulesoft and say they want to transform their businesses but they can’t because their data is trapped and they can’t integrate it across systems. Often, companies are writing custom code that can’t be reused, so they have to continually write new code for every integration. This is time- and resource-consuming, which constrains business. The answer to eliminating those constraints is using APIs.
“The biggest challenge is integration is critical for all to these projects. And we’ve created this ball of mud in organizations by creating a bunch of point-to-point custom code integrations that don’t talk to each other and are not reusable. And again, you can’t hire enough developers to go fast enough to do that. And data is needed for every single one of these applications.”
A bold prediction
Lindsey believes the future is going to be built on a foundation of technology. And, in fact, every single company will in some way be a technology company. She also believes that innovation will not be restricted just to the work done inside of companies. Outside of work, people have ideas and projects they want to work on. Making APIs available to the general public will lead to exciting innovation.