Application programming interfaces first found their footing among consumer Web sites wanting to transform into platforms. APIs let Web sites foster developer communities that could build apps anchored to their services. Innovative apps would attract new users to the Web site, help keep existing users engaged and—with a little bit of luck—make some money.

However, this virtuous cycle of APIs and innovation does not have to be limited to consumer Web sites. Enterprises have countless data and application resources distributed across their data centers and all of these could be opened to internal developers via APIs. Done right, this could drive development innovation. Internal programmers with access to diverse internal information resources could build more compelling mobile and cloud apps, in less time.

Centralize API Discovery Through A Directory

Enablement is the starting point for getting developers to build better apps, faster. Apps need data and APIs provide the windows into data, both inside the enterprise and out in the cloud. Yet finding the APIs that front data sources to enrich mobile apps is no easy task. Back in the days of service-oriented architecture, service directories emerged as the vehicle for helping developers find software service elements that could be reused and composed into diverse business processes.

An API portal can assume a similar role in providing a centralized point of API discovery and reuse in mobile. An API portal provides the core directory, developer management and developer collaboration features that aid mobile innovation. It presents information on what data resources are available and how these resources can be accessed, along with documentation, code samples and so on, all in a simple Web-based format.

Internal vs. External Developers

For some time, vendors have been making API portals available from the cloud, with an eye toward aiding the external long-tail developer. But that same technology brought inside the data center can also be used by internal developers. While external developer communities can provide a forum for experimentation and education, the real ROI for most enterprises will occur inside the DMZ. Allowing internal developers to build productive and agile mobile apps will help organizations deliver effective consumer and employee-facing apps faster.

But to do this, the API portal will need to be brought inside the firewall where the enterprise will be able to manage internal developers securely. This will increase productivity, resulting in more and richer apps, in less time.

Having seen the potential service directories had for organizing internal development efforts, API management firms have now effectively bridged the lessons of SOA to mobile. API portals can now support classic SOAP services along with newer REST interfaces and can be deployed 100% inside the datacenter. This enables enterprises to use API portals strategically—not just for powering external developer communities. By placing itself at the center of an internal app-building ecosystem, a well-deployed API portal can spur innovation across internal mobile development teams.