The wave of APIs taking over the world manifests not only in new companies springing up that are absolutely reliant on APIs but also in transforming industries that have been around for hundreds of years. For one, the entire automotive industry is heading in the direction of being an ultimately API drive ecosystem.
In our latest podcast episode, we spoke with John Musser, the director of Data and Analytics for Ford Autonomous Vehicles at Ford Motor Company. John was attracted to Ford because the automotive industry is undergoing massive amounts of digital transformation through connectivity, electric vehicle expansion, the introduction of self-driving cars, and more. I chatted with John about what it takes to pioneer that digital revolution and the skills needed to guide a new wave of developers through the API frontier.
1. Build a Multidisciplinary API Team
"If you think about any large IT organization, a Fortune 500 company or Fortune 20, you have lots of teams that are building sort of API products across the organization. Some are public-facing, some are internal, some are related to the car itself," - John Musser.
Early on, Ford's focus centered around their public-facing APIs (as is the case with many API programs when they're first starting), but it quickly became known that their internal APIs were quite fragmented. There were a lot of teams and no central way to oversee the entire API lifecycle. So, John built up a Platform Enablement Team composed of almost 100 people who are all focused on APIs across the company in all capacities.
In creating that Platform Enablement Team, John notes it's critical to ask essential questions as your company scales. Guiding an organization as large as Ford through continuous digital transformation requires careful navigation and a holistic approach. Think about big picture items like how teams form, how to level up the whole organization, and your execution strategy for gaining executive buy-in.
"Just like any good API team, you have to be a bit multidisciplinary because you're going to need some engineering folks who understand building software and others who are doing evangelism within the company. Multidisciplinary teams consist of customer success solutions teams, developers, strategy teams, engineers, and more. You have to be careful to avoid duplication of efforts and stay focused on where to put that investment as your teams grow," shares John.
2. Gain Executive Buy-In for Your API Program
"Show success because success builds on more success. Have a team member dedicated to metrics and results. When you can show value to the executive team, they understand numbers. They understand the histogram of what's happening over time," - John Musser.
Constant iteration and innovation combined with proven, quantifiable numbers are vital for gaining executive buy-in. Even if you only have minimal data to show off at first, take results up the chain and show constant improvement over time. The momentum will speak for itself as you get the digital transformation ball rolling. Once you have that buy-in, think about how to parlay this mandate into transforming the organization and what key players are needed to make it happen.
3. Transform with Your Core Pillars in Mind
"Cars are awesome, but they're definitely different when it comes to how you're going to turn these things into essentially digital phones. Our challenge is basically, how are we going to make this iPhone on wheels? It's basically a mega IoT device, and APIs are a huge part of getting that transformation right,"- John Musser.
When looking at the next generation of motorized vehicles, there is a lot of potential for digitizing. Remote start options in the winter, fuel delivery, self-driving capabilities, cloud integrations, and more all require APIs built into the technology of the car.
At the forefront of this transformation is the continued focus on safety and privacy in all that Ford does. These two guiding principles have to remain prevalent in all of their API design work for John and his team to innovate for the future.
"There is this connectivity layer between the vehicle and you, and sometimes people talk about this massive amount of data that's available from the vehicle. It's up to us ad developers to make sure that the tech we're creating is secure and protected because the amount of data you can pull from vehicle usage is a lot," shares John.
As your company starts to navigate the digital frontier, keep your core pillars and the end-user in mind when building out your APIs. For Ford, theIr core pillars are privacy and security. But, for your API program, hold close the values you want to uphold for your end-users throughout the entire API lifecycle.
"There are natural concerns around privacy and security, which means you have to be very careful with your API program. The quality of the software is key, both internal quality as well as the external quality, to prevent hackers and anything else that might go wrong. Where you go in your car is a very private piece of information and we'd never want our APIs not to protect that," shares John.
4. Innovate for the Future, Not Just for Today
"A car is such a fundamental part of your life. So, it makes sense that it becomes so ingrained in your day-to-day activities that it becomes a new postal black pen or a new place to engage with some of the services you use every single day," - John Musser.
When transforming your company and building out an API program, you don't just want to design for the needs of today. Considering the possibilities later down the line and the future capabilities of your APIs will help you save time later once those possibilities become a reality. Leading with a design-first approach can help your growing developer team to design APIs that can be quickly built on, expanded, or updated as the needs of your end-users change or grow.
Obviously, for John's team, the implications of building out APIs for basic car needs such as maps integrations, phone integrations, and letting a driver know when their tire pressure is low are expected. But, what may not be expected is where your APIs might be a year, five years, or ten years down the line. John's team is constantly innovating for the long-term future, not just for tomorrow. One example that may come as a surprise is the integration Ford has with Amazon.
"Just over a year ago, one of the things that we did on the retail side was partnered with Amazon. So when you order packages on Amazon, you can have those packages delivered to your vehicle. Instead of saying here's my home address, packages can come to your car," shares John.
Obviously, there are a few authorization steps to make this all happen. But, at the end of the day, an Amazon driver can come and deliver your packages to the trunk of your car, which is especially helpful if you are on the road for long periods of time. It's conducted in a very secure manner, where the delivery driver can pop the trunk and turn off the alarm, and the car turns that alarm back on when they leave.
And the best part is that system uses one of the same base APIs that John's team already had in production. The developer team ensured they were creating an API with unlimited potential to customize and grow with the needs of end-users. Using your car as a delivery address may not have been a need 15 years ago, but it sure is today!
5. Start Small With the Resources Available to You
"I think even though we're huge, we try to be small and focused in and go from there. Starting small is not a disadvantage. Begin with API platform thinking from the beginning. So even in a small API team, I start with the basics," - John Musser.
Obviously, most API teams do not have the luxury of being as big and robust as Ford's API team (they've had so much growth they even have a Ford API conference dedicated to their innovations!). But, everyone has to begin somewhere, and starting small is precisely how you start to build out a successful API program.
John encourages API leaders to ask themselves how they think about APIs and the platform being core to what they are doing. Think about the tools you need to get your team where you need to go to implement fundamental transformation and what may already be available to you. Often, you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
"There are a bunch of both commercial and open-source tools for developers now that didn't exist 2510 years ago. Just go to GitHub. Many smaller API leaders are thinking, how can I leverage this to accelerate what I'm trying to do? There's more tooling all the time that can help with the speed and complexity and can be major accelerators for your API program," shares John.
One of those tools that may help you with that API journey is Stoplight! We offer a free workspace option for all of your API design and development needs, as well as a variety of open-source tools to get you started.
For more tips and tricks about expanding your API program or to get started on your digital transformation journey, head over to API Intersection to learn more.