Podcast | Can we get machines to sell and buy APIs without human assistance?

Jean
Shin

Director, Strategy & Content | Podcast Host of Mobile Interactions Now

21 min podcast

In this Part 2 of our discussion with Zdenek Nemec, we start trotting up and down (and front and back) to delve deeper into the machine ends of the autonomous API ecosystem. Yes, it’s early days, so find out what Superface is working on to get enterprise machines to discover and buy APIs without needing human assistance and handling the complexity involved in consuming APIs.

Podcast Transcript

Jean:

Welcome back to the show Z. In our previous episode, we talked about what new future can be had with autonomous API and it was more of an experience end of it. How users would experience it, how business would benefit. Now, I will love you to delve deeper into the backend.

 

Zdenek:

One needs to understand what's going on today, really. There is, and I mentioned it in this previous part, there is this tension between providers and consumers of the capabilities. Because, up until recently, it felt like the providers had the upper hand and the consumers have to do basically and endure whatever the providers throw at them. They decide to change their APIs, they decide to take something away. For example, Twitter and Facebook are notorious for their API changes, breaking the clients that were built for them.

But the same is within the enterprises. I've seen so many emails that goes like, "Oh, we changed this API. Please change your...", or not even the word please, "Change your API, clients, or your stuff is broken". So, this was really consumers being at the mercy of the providers, external or internal, within the enterprise.

That, of course, creates some tensions. That's what we need to look at and what we need to attend to because, right now, this was really not healthy relationships. Besides, the consumers, they want to do some stuff, they have some business tasks to do with their application. They don't really want to spend days and months understanding why you [inaudible 00:02:20] like that, or why you do technicality like this and this and that way. That's not their problem and so we need to help both parties to, on one way, find the consumer APIs and on the other hand, to just make it as easy as possible to share your capabilities as an organization with the outside world or within your organization.

 

Jean:

How about the provider side of this? How would their days will be different?

 

Zdenek:

Again, I think this will help providers to provide what they want. What are their capabilities. I was thinking about, where is the best use for this autonomy? And there are many industries, but one of them might be also a domain where it's quite a low technology. You don't have your developers, you don't have your big IT teams and you just want to provide something digitally. And the analogy I really like about APIs is the analogy to do websites. When 20 years ago, people are asking, "Hey, should I have a website?" And today are, "Oh, you have business, how can you even think about not having a website in your business?" So if you have a business, AKA, if you are a provider, capabilities, again, this might be internal and inside an enterprise, doesn't have to be external API.

If you have some capability you want to provide out, you probably want to build a website for it or an API. So you can tap digitally on it and as with websites, you remember who Webmaster was? Do we have Webmaster's today? It's like we made websites so much easier to use and develop and serve to provide or advertise your businesses, your business capabilities and we are going to do the same with APIs, similar to websites. We will make it so much simpler for providers to go out, provide their capabilities and capitalize on what they have.

 

Jean:

I'm going to be, I don't know, oversimplifying and say this to you. It sounds somewhat like enterprises are outsourcing the complexity so that they don't have to deal with it. We talked about the both ends of the spectrum. Now tell me a little bit about what problem you're try to solve when you go right into the autonomous API itself. What do you have to do?

 

Zdenek:

Actually, a very excellent question. Let me address first this part on outsourcing the complexity. Yes, they are doing it and it's backfiring on them because in an industry where you have multiple enterprises and they "outsource" the complexity, they leave the consumer, their customers to deal with that, then you start to see the pattern with aggregators. For example, in the logistic industry, you have a lot of logistic components. You have, you all know the names like FedEx, UPS, DHL, and local companies and whatnot. And they together exposed so much complexity to the outside world, to consumers who just wanted to track my parcel or ship my parcel. So it was no longer bearable for you if you build an e-shop and you want to ship in Vietnam and Europe and US to integrate it, all those complexity, that just didn't work.

We started seeing these aggregators in these industries. So a company comes, they integrate, [inaudible] and harmonize the other enterprise APIs. They hide away the complexity. They make it nice and easy. And that's all they do. And we are seeing 100 of harmonizers aggregators only in logistics. We are seeing them in banking. We are seeing them in travel. In all the domains you look at that are having some APIs public out there, you start to seeing this aggregators because the complexity that these enterprises gave out was just... people learn several companies were not accepting it. So, and that's backfiring back on those enterprises because now they are losing the touch with those customers. Are they really there if they are going to the aggregator and not directly to that enterprise?

It didn't work out well, I would say. That's the first part of your question. The second, what it needs to be done to create an autonomous system? It's not actually that much, it's not really that you need to rewrite all the systems, that you need to change everything you have. You might have to change the mindset though. That's the first thing. You might have to maybe stop thinking about, "Hey, I'll manage everything centrally." You might have to start thinking, "Hey, I give more autonomy to the teams."

But that's probably one of the biggest gaps in digital sales we already addressed. I might want to start thinking about how I sell my capabilities digitally. But technically it's really not that much on the provider side. As a provider, you basically declare what capabilities you have and you register your capabilities in some sort of register or registries so consumers can find your capabilities. It's not really a complete rewrite of what you have been creating in the last 20 years. It's more like some metadata about your systems, about your capabilities, and sharing the metadata with the consumers so consumers can find them and connect.

 

Jean:

How do you make sure, whenever you have those intermediary in a way there will be registry and people will like to know who's actually managing the registry? There are organizational issues. How would the players, the ecosystem players, make sure there's nothing spooky going on? Nothing fishy going on.

 

Zdenek:

There are two layers, with spooky and fishy. One is the security. A system, especially distributed system securely. That's one thing. And the other is of course, the company policies, and, "Hey, you should really not be allowing this capabilities getting out or to the other, and managing the access and all that." So there are two layers of that, that you still might want to monitor, that's for sure. And as for the registries itself, there might be registries, I envision the world that there are multiple registries. Possibly many registries within a large enterprise for some departments, for some teams, out of all enterprise landscape. Even that simple question, what capabilities do we have in our company that we can use digitally?

That's a very difficult questions for many of the Fortune 500 companies. They simply don't know today. So you will have these registries all around the places. It's not one central registry of the world or anything, but at the different levels of the landscape, you might have these registries. And this is also where the governance might be happening, where you might have some bots checking out, "Hey, what's actually there, is it legal? Is it violating policies or not or whatnot"? The one last thing I want to mention here is that in autonomy, of course, you cannot have this intermediary that communication is going through. The registry there is just for the discovery purposes and maybe for declaring, "Hey, I want to use the service". Maybe I want to pay for this service or sell the department I'm using their service and the communication itself then, it's not happening through the intermediary.

In an autonomous system, the two components, they use the registry to find themselves just to bump to each other, to declare, "Hey, I like you". "I like you too." But then they talk directly to each other. It's not going through some proxy that might take the data or do any stuff like this.

 

Jean:

So nobody's really making a decision. It's like you see a hand raised, what is available and that's how you are performing the matching.

 

Zdenek:

Correct.

 

Jean:

Depends on what you're looking for and what was registered as being capable of...

 

Zdenek:

And depends on your business criteria, depending on some nonfunctional requirements, we already mentioned data protection, SLAs, legal stuff. Price maybe. Technical as well. What is the response time? I really want consumers to be picking up the providers in the public landscape, not within the enterprise, but maybe within enterprise. That want to... that will be picking providers based on the quality of their service, based on the price of their service, and not because they have a great parties. I mean, I like parties and I like brands and all this, but when you pick what provider of the capabilities you are after, you should be really picking on some other requirements or criteria, than a Google search into optimization and how good cocktails they do at the party.

 

Jean:

I think it's really helpful. The minute I start picturing that as a public viewing of the performance of the provider and capabilities listed, and there are certain metrics for picking certain capability or subscribing to that service. I think it's just starting to click a little clearer in my head. And I think it also jives with a lot of, what could be hyped terminologies like API-led economy. And even some pundits declaring that every business will basically be a subscribed service and a lot of these capabilities can be exposed somehow in there, and then can be discovered with no human assistance. Now I can see how the flow of a service delivery can completely be different than what we are used to today.

 

Zdenek:

Yes

 

Jean:

That is an interesting thread. How much work are you still doing on this?

 

Zdenek:

We cannot solve, and this quote is, I think, attributed to Albert Einstein, but nobody really knows if he said it, but "you cannot solve the problem by the thinking that has created the problem". So you've kind of, and this is like a locally share, it's thinking out of the box. Thinking about, "We need to change people's thinking, hey, you know, okay". We used to have documentation. We used to have a Google search. We used to have nice lunches with sales people and this can be done differently. We don't need to write the documentations. We don't need to read the documentations. We don't need to spend weeks programming. We just declare what we want to do or what we have to offer and the machines will figure it out. That's a giant mindset for people to take.

So I think the biggest challenge I see right now is for people to relate or for us to explain this to people that, "Hey, were are doing this manual labor. We were connecting, we were taking these wires from A to B and it can be done...", changing the paradigm, really, that's like how to explain, how do you explain this to people and how to do it in a nice way? And of course, we need to think about, people need to not be afraid that they will lose their job because they no longer have to write this documentation or whatnot. But I really see it as an opportunity for us to do better things than just trying to connect what we should not be connecting by hand.

 

Jean:

Now, 'cause you're talking to the same audience who has been nurturing and doing a lot of trouble shooting for this... Who do you see an internal scout or champion can bring this to a broader, more impactful audience?

 

Zdenek:

So it's the... of course, larger enterprises who have innovators in them or who are in the pain of managing many integrations. These are, and we are talking to one of the largest manufacturer on this planet, and they are basically unable to answer a simple question asked: What's the status of the thing being manufactured? Because how vast and complex it is and how many systems there are. And they are lucky, in my eyes, because they have internal innovators who think forward like, "Hey, this simply cannot be handled by hands. It's going to be handled by the status quo. We need some radically different approaches".

So these innovators, that's one thing. But then of course this current situation with the health crisis and economy changing engine and turning more digital, it's also creating additional pressure on digitalization and what was possible... not possible before, maybe this will help, this digitalizing the self, because now we simply have to, we have to social distance, we have to... and people start realizing that it's actually possible, but we need the infrastructure and the systems. We need to maybe start doing things a little bit differently in order to be able to do things digitally that were not possible or think of, thinkable before. So that might be also another uncanny push towards the autonomy in changing the minds because of what's going on in the world.

 

Jean:

This probably will be my last question, may not be the best question, but I want to ask, if you were to see the supply and demand side of this, who you think will be more of your fast friends to get this moving? Because you could have providers registered and get that big push to make it easier for enterprises to slowly get used to the idea. It's like having a high definition TV when there's no high definition content.

 

Zdenek:

Of course.

 

Jean:

So where, where you think it will attract the audience quicker and get things moving? Where is the pain greater?

 

Zdenek:

Ask me in a year, hopefully I'll give you... They're the most like that. But now I can give you just my thinking. So of course we see a lot of consumers asking for this aggregators, for this harmonizers and that they don't want to deal with the pain and the complexity of integration. So we believe that the autonomous APIs and Superface is a strong value proposition for them. But then I'm coming from a background where I've been working with the enterprises and see how costly and slow it is to provide the capabilities digitally.

So we are going to try it on both sides because I see this value proposition has to be both sides and we will of course start with one and then tell it to another. So yet to be seen, but I think the value proposition is strong really, and everybody who was ever in some integration game and was thinking, "Oh, this is hard to integrate it, that API. Oh. And maintaining it". Then both parties are actually having some problems that are right now painful problems and we hope to bring the remedy to both of them. So, sorry I cannot give you a better answer than just saying we'll try both and I believe we have proposition for both.

 

Jean:

I was asking… but just know that I'm rooting for you 'cause any opportunity to make consumption simpler, I'm totally for it. In this case, it's even more exciting because I think there is some innovation behind it that need to support this. But I do want to ask you one more question before I let you go so that we get to know you a little bit better. Can you tell me what are top three apps that you use on your mobile device?

 

Zdenek:

Yes, of course. But can you tell me, what do you think is the most popular and successful API on this planet? That has to do with my answer actually.

 

Jean:

Okay. I'm going to take a wild guess. Google map? One of them?

 

Zdenek:

Nope. It's World Wide Web. It's the web. It's the web pages. So those are essentially APIs and my number one application definitely is the surfing on my iPhone. So browsing the web that's number one application, then it is of course messages. And you said three. So the third one would be, that's a tough one, probably Instagram, probably Instagram, but all of them are powered by APIs and especially the first one, the whole web is actually an API. The technology that we are using today, rest APIs, is actually coming from the success of the web. So one of the most successful API client being the web browser. So that's my number one application.

 

Jean:

That was splendid. I never had a guest who asked me back to answer that question and special thanks to actually not using any other language other than English to explain 'cause I know you are capable of speaking many more languages. So that was absolutely brilliant. Thank you Z.

 

Zdenek:

Thank you for having me, Jean.