API. It’s the technology that can transform your business into a platform

"Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening." —Tom Goodwin, EVP and Head of Innovation at Zenith, writing for TechTarget in 2015

Most people think of digital transformation as simply moving from paper to digital—but it’s more than that. It’s also streamlining any analog operation in a way that improves your customer experience. One way is to use APIs to expose controls directly to your customers that had previously only been accessible to employees.

For example, in 2012, the American retailer Walgreens created the Walgreens Photo Print App, essentially a collection of APIs that transformed its labor-intensive photo printing process into a nearly self-service process. The app reduced the time, cost, and employee involvement necessary to print photos, and it lessened customer wait times. The APIs encouraged adoption by third-party app developers, who integrated Walgreens into their mobile photo apps, and thus gave the company more exposure to a new audience and increased its market share. It also generated offline revenue: when customers came into the store to pick up their photos, they often made additional purchases. Since then, Walgreens has used APIs to introduce more apps—such as its pharmacy app—to make its customers’ lives more convenient. The company is using digital technology to transform its in-store experiences.

APIs turn your business into a platform

As we've seen, APIs aren’t just for Uber and Airbnb. Businesses of all kinds that just a few years ago couldn’t have imagined why they’d ever need an app have become tech companies. They’re using APIs to provide their customers with more options, lower costs, and improved speed—in other words, dramatically better experiences. In the case of Walgreens, self-service became better service.

Where do you start?

Before embarking on a complete, wholesale rip-and-replacement of existing systems that may negatively impact revenue before it has a chance to succeed, try smaller pilot programs first. If they fail, they won’t affect your company’s core business. The key is to transform your business and become a disruptive force in your industry without negatively disrupting yourself.

How do you identify which processes to enable with APIs? Look for some of these markers:

  1. A manual process that is cumbersome for the company or your customers
  2. A process that generates an inordinate number of customer complaints
  3. Any labor-intensive process that could benefit from reduced steps, or better yet, by shifting control to your customers
  4. Something you were already developing that a competitor gets to market with faster, and you need to catch up quickly

Use the API to streamline your processes

Changes from old ways to new should leverage digital technologies to accelerate business activities, processes, and models to address challenges and maximize opportunities. The API economy gives a business an opportunity to connect with customers and partners in a streamlined way, reducing time, tasks, and friction.

Just be careful not to digitize existing, flawed processes that result in few, if any, improvements. Some companies make the mistake of organizing their site content around user interaction models that mirror their company’s structure—and needs—rather than the needs of their customers. You’ll get maximum value out of APIs if you use them to transform your customer experience and make the lives of your customers better. Transform your customer experience and you’ll transform your company.


  1. By turning your business into a platform, APIs open the door for partners and customers to streamline your operations, leading to better customer experiences.
  2. Don’t try to "boil the ocean." Start with a pilot program—something small and low-risk.
  3. Remember, the goal is not to use APIs to mirror your current top-down processes and structure. The goal is to transform your company by transforming your customer experiences.