Introducing the Composable Business: How Customer-Centered APIs are Empowering Executives to Open New Markets

Jason Harmon CTO
by Jason Harmon CTO on June 17, 2022 5 min read

This article was originally featured in Forbes, view that here.

Tech CEOs are charged with the difficult task of translating company capabilities into new solutions that will address the next evolution of market demands—and it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Within tech companies, language is often more of a challenge than most of us realize. For example, a CEO will typically have access to a tech leader with a high level of proficiency in orchestrating the company’s technology resources. However, tech leaders don’t always have the ability to communicate those resources in a way that is accessible to someone with less technical knowledge.

This inability to effectively communicate technical details to those who need it can lead to a couple of unfortunate scenarios.

Tech fatigue: This happens when an executive gets tired of consistently having unproductive discussions with tech leaders. They feel they cannot get a comprehensible explanation from the tech side of the business, so they fall back on what they do understand: deals/revenue. They see what the market wants, but they have no idea how to deliver it, so they make deals with partner organizations that seemingly have the capabilities they need to deliver. But there is a steep cost to this approach: frustration and burnout among key technical stakeholders.

Tech burnout: Tech burnout sets in when CTOs and other tech leaders notice a pattern of deal-led development. The CEO makes a deal that looks good on paper, but it doesn’t align with the company’s existing resources. The tech professionals charged with making it happen experience whiplash fatigue as the company embarks on yet another one-and-done overhaul that will require massive inputs to produce single-use, throwaway products.

Use This Approach Instead

The composable business model is the exact opposite of deal-led development, and it’s dependent on a good API strategy. While there is more to building a composable business than launching a good API program, it’s the most important foundational step.

Customer-centered APIs offer companies a way forward that avoids both of the situations described above and provides executives with a more accessible toolset.

Together, APIs and the composable business model make the technology adaptable to fit the needs of your team while also demonstrating the ROI that CEOs are seeking.

Composable Business and APIs

A 2020 Gartner Keynote states that “composable business means creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks” and that “composable thinking” is one of those key parts.

Composable thinking is critical because success in the marketplace depends on executives knowing exactly what their companies are capable of doing and translating those capabilities into successful products. A customer-centric, design-first API strategy does exactly that.

APIs are designed products that can open new markets and revolutionize the way businesses measure success when done the right way. Building a design-first API program is the first step—resulting in customer-focused APIs built around proper language and useful to executives.

Beyond the basics of building an API program, executives should also focus on:

  • Authentication: How a company handles authentication and authorization is critical to the externalization aspects of the APIs, and it governs how the APIs will interact with all outside technologies they will connect to. If your APIs have a patchwork of mechanisms for auth and no clear strategy on how to externally perform auth checks, your ability to leverage APIs will be problematic.
  • Governance: Executives need to understand the company’s approach to governance and control around the API program. The program will need an empowered manager, supported by a small enablement team that focuses on education, evangelism, and enablement. Gatekeeping is not the goal; rather, it’s to build cohesion and synergy across all the company’s API activities.
  • A level of autonomy: A level of autonomy for the person leading the API program is hugely beneficial. To build a truly composable business, the API program manager needs access to those at the top with the most comprehensive vision and understanding of the company.

Slow Down To Speed Up

A certain urgency can haunt discussions about APIs. Leaders have read about both API companies and traditional companies that have achieved incredible returns from their API programs.

The inevitable question faced by many executives is, “Why aren’t we doing that?”

The natural impulse is to put the pedal to the metal, but that’s a recipe for disaster. It takes a major investment to stand up an API program, and establishing a good one isn’t easy.

A good program can be created within a few months versus a few years in the right hands.

The Payoff

Once a customer-centric suite of APIs has been created, CEOs no longer have to rely on tech leaders to serve as technology translators. They can focus on what they do best without continually feeling hamstrung by not being a tech expert. A good API program reduces friction between business and tech leaders, fostering healthy dialogue between them.

Ultimately, if everyone in the company has the ability to discover the company’s API capabilities, reuse them in a modular way, orchestrate them into new applications, and execute toward strategic outcomes, you have all the ingredients for success.

With a shared vocabulary and understanding of the company’s composable business capabilities, all leaders can work together to build a marketplace where reusable products are used to generate ROI.

It can be a steep climb to build a new API program from scratch or rein in an unwieldy one, but the business value of a functional and productive design-first API program cannot be overstated.

Composable Business Is About Alignment

Thanks to APIs, the technology needed to build a composable business is proven and readily available—and it’s never been cheaper. Without composable business, the longstanding disconnect between the C-level and tech leaders will continue to linger. Business strategy and technical strategy must be aligned in order to build momentum.

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