Explaining that APIs are a big thing nowadays rarely is necessary anymore. Both major scenarios of APIs as a way to interface with partners or the public, and APIs as a way to structure your IT internally for greater agility can be explained and illustrated with many convincing examples.
Explaining some of the nuances around API strategies and where and why it makes a difference how to define and execute one is more complex, and often already requires a deep dive into strategic goals, API styles and technologies, and the resulting properties of API landscapes.
What we have seen in our API-centered work in the API Academy is that between those two aspects ("APIs are a thing!" "But how do you do them right?"), it can helpful to briefly reflect on "why now?", the question of why APIs have picked up so much steam recently, and in particular when combined with the practice of using them in a microservices architecture.
One of the fascinating observations in the recent past has been that many successful organizations have fundamentally changed their way they look at IT: Instead of seeing it as a cost center, they see it as an enabler and champion of business opportunities and changes. This change of perspective usually has two drivers: Being pushed to become better at changing because the world changes faster, and being pulled to become better at changing because that will make the organization more successful.
These two drivers of push and pull have been there before, and we have seen them in other areas of organizational structure before, such as in lean manufacturing. So there may be a third force in play that made this push/pull combination to become a major trend in IT. And of course there is, and it is that technology and architecture patterns have gotten to the point where implementing an API-based strategy is perceived to be realistic by many organizations.
In summary, this means that there are three main drivers that have made APIs and API strategy as big as they are today:
Push: The world and its markets change quicker than ever before. Technology changes trigger developments that quickly change markets, and not having the readiness to adapt to these changes is a major risk. It often is not an option to avoid change, as more nimble competitors will be able to move quicker and capture more marketshare.
Pull: Changing to a more agile organizational model not only reduces risk for an organization, it also improves opportunities. The quicker IT can implement changes that are driven by business needs or opportunities, the easier it is for an organization to have a quick and effective feedback loop of assessing its fitness, and adjusting accordingly. In addition to this, the "Network Effect" comes into play as well: the more companies are API-enabled, the more attractive it becomes to be a part of this ecosystem and have more options when it comes to changing the organization's focus.
Follow the Leaders: Technology has come the point where enterprise IT does not look at a homogeneous and centralized IT development process as the best way of delivering IT capabilities. Allowing teams more freedom and being able to scale this heterogeneity with containers and DevOps has become a model that fast organizations are increasingly adopting. Following the examples of these organizations, understanding their processes, taking advantage of the emerging tool and product landscape, and embracing this as an essential part of the process to become better and faster at changing, has become something that is not perceived as a risky strategy anymore.
Looking at the current API trend with these three drivers in mind, it both makes a lot of sense that it happens, and also that it happens now. It also becomes clear that APIs alone are not much to be excited about (which should not come as a great surprise to anybody). It is simply their role as enablers in the process of making organizations more adaptive that makes them interesting and attractive. And like any enabler, it is important to focus on why you are using them, whether you use them so that you get the most out of them, and to always keep the eyes on the prize: Decomposing the organization to make it more adaptive and to drive organizational fitness.