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This article is brought to you by ComputerworldUK in association with Intel IT Center

APIs are helping enterprises with locked-in legacy estates become more flexible - and therefore more digital. More important though, they are increasingly being used to attract developer talent and innovative ideas for new revenue streams, and for services that customers never even knew they needed.

When secured, APIs are a way of creating a sandbox for developers to play in. Firms in the healthcare, retail and travel space are already opening up to innovation and waiting to see what services come back to them.

While monetising the data you serve to these partners and developers is one revenue stream, perhaps more valuable in the long term are the new, useful and innovative services that could be offered to your existing customers – often things that you haven't even considered before.

Philips Hue, for example, has transformed from a traditional electronics manufacturer to an IoT company thanks to APIs. It allowed developers to use its data to create innovative apps that help manage connected products - like its smart lighting. Customers can now control their lighting preferences from their smartphones, making it a valuable future investment - helping cut down on energy usage and providing a service as well as a product.

Mobile apps need APIs to function: programmable, interconnected frameworks, used to access business data and transactions and create new services. For the enterprise, however, time-to-market pressures risk the development of piecemeal applications that work but do not conform to the organisation’s broader mobile, data architecture.

The answer is the tiering of APIs and advanced API management tools, and there are a number of examples emerging from the new API economy.

Among these is a smart parking solution from Siemens. This is a modular, infrastructure-based sensor system that delivers a clear picture of where available parking spaces can be found in a sensor-equipped car park. It also tells you how long each space has been occupied for. Furthermore, Siemens API can report on any improper usage of non-parking areas, as well as nearby bicycle and emergency vehicle lanes.

The idea is for all this valuable parking information to be used by law enforcement, commuters, traffic management agencies, and even retailers with complementary services. The system uses RFID technology for vehicle recognition, drawing on real-time parking-related licenses or identification data.

The next step with smart parking solutions, says Siemens, is adaptive lighting in car parks; monitoring of city equipment and car emission data management.

APIs are also being prepped for use in medical care. Innovations so far have tended to focus on clinicians to diagnose patients, but a number of companies are trialling services and standards for care providers to advise and even prescribe apps directly to patients.

The key concern in this industry is security, with personal medical data requiring protection for compliance purposes. Nevertheless, large insurance companies like Kaiser and Aetna have shared their visions for an integrated ecosystem, with mobile consumer apps and devices working together in various healthcare scenarios.

According to Juniper Research, in just five years there’ll be more than 100 million smart watches in use worldwide; and mHealth APIs and interfaces, like Apple’s HealthKit and Samsung’s SAMI, will help propel the global healthcare accessory market to $3bn by 2019, forecasts Juniper.

Intel has developed an API and wearable computer combination for Parkinson’s sufferers and is part of a trial to collect data that can be shared with researchers. The company is working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, an organisation that was established in 2000 by the actor and Parkinson's sufferer, to study the disease.

The trial is underway and enables patients to be monitored remotely, and the data stored in an open system that can be accessed by scientists. Intel says that wearable computers offer a more objective way of monitoring patients than previous clinical trials, which relied on the patient describing their symptoms and experiences.

APIs in other sectors

Mashery, a company formed in 2006 and bought by Intel in 2014, is developing APIs for several industry sectors including retail, to create complementary online experiences to bridge the gap between the web and the store.

Argos, for example, is developing APIs that can synthesise data to provide a personalised, intelligent and responsive customer experience on mobiles and web.

In addition, it can deliver real-time data to customers across channels and optimise the output for their preferred device.

Mashery offers its customers technologies to manage their APIs and get the best value out of them. Using its platform, enterprises can manage their partners’ access to APIs, and manage APIs as products: tailoring specific sets of APIs to deliver controlled entitlements to specific user groups.

British Airways is doing this through a dedicated API service for developers. It enables them to access flight arrival and departures information and flight prices so they can incorporate them into their mobile and web applications.

British Airways has also developed a range of API plans, giving other information to service partners such as in-flight entertainment details; and hotel, car and flight packages.

By turning its APIs into products, the company is leading the industry in developing new revenue streams, and deepening relationships with its partners. It’s a taste of things to come, with opportunities in all sectors to produce new value added services by combining data sources and devices.

This is something that Aepona, another Intel-owned company, was set up to offer companies. Aepona has developed API monetisation and agile service development platforms, but it is also involved in creating APIs that can be used in Internet of Things (IoT) scenarios.

Aepona’s Smart Cities application, which the company showcased at Mobile World Congress in March, showed how data sources and devices can be combined to create value added services such as dynamic congestion charging. The system uses the Aepona platform along with Intel hardware and software to collect and analyse data from a network of sensors.

The application demonstrated how air quality sensors can be linked to control the congestion charge in two zones within the city of London, and to offer incentives to commuters by discounting the cost of using the park and ride facilities.

Ultimately, the attraction of APIs for businesses is they have the potential to create new revenue streams and partnerships through an increasingly interconnected infrastructure. And from the customer’s perspective, they get to benefit from having more personalised, more integrated, localised and immediate services.

Multi-partner, agile services could be a result of all the API innovation. Imagine a technology conference API which combines five or six different services. It could enable you to buy your ticket for the conference; book a hotel; order your airline ticket; get your travel card; find a parking space at the airport; and get a table at a restaurant.

Furthermore, these services could be personalised and componentised, so that, for example you could choose to fly business but have first-class food. Payments could be made using a shared payments infrastructure. Effectively, the API of the future could enable the creation of shared business on the fly. We’re not there yet, but it’s not far off.