The API lifecycle: A look at planning to production
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One company is using mobile APIs to take global enterprises to new levels of corporate communication.
"What's your phone number?" asked Eske Gunge, CEO of the mobile dialogue platform provider Actimo, as he prepared to send me the preview of their homegrown internal enterprise communication mobile application. I gave it to him, and within seconds a link was sent to my phone that let me access the startup's prized app.
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The app works well, is easy to use, is satisfyingly responsive and looks good. But that's not what I'm impressed by; what I can't get over is the fact that I am interacting in real time with someone in Denmark, where Actimo is headquartered, via my smartphone on an app that I didn't even know existed before today.
This is an example of how APIs are enabling new levels of global communication for today's enterprises, a trend that leaders at both Actimo and Nexmo -- the company providing the mobile APIs that make this app a reality -- say enterprises can't ignore.
"It's the new business mode," said Gunge.
According to the company, Actimo's product is "a mobile dialogue platform that enables end-to-end conversations with customers and employees on their smartphones." For the purposes of the demonstration, Gunge asked me to imagine we were about to launch a new product and that I was being asked to provide feedback on the final version before rollout. To begin, Gunge showed me his screen to demonstrate how he can set up a fully customizable feedback interface in a few minutes and then simply input the mobile numbers to send it to.
Within a few seconds I received an SMS with a link to the app. I open it and input my fake feedback. As I respond, Gunge shows me via webcam how his interface in Norway keeps track of my responses in real time. By distributing apps like this, Gunge said the company hopes to do away with old processes like email and SMS.
"We are trying to create SMS and email on steroids," said Gunge.
Mobile APIs: Gateway to the world
But while the app is good, how are they able to guarantee that this app will provide a global reach? Often the worldwide distribution of mobile applications requires solidifying contracts and routing agreements with mobile carriers in each country -- a lengthy and complex process. However, according to Gunge, this is the reason they chose to use Nexmo's mobile APIs.
Essentially, Nexmo does all the "legal legwork" up front to establish end-user licensing and cell-use agreements with companies like Deutsch Telekom, TELEFONIKA and AT&T, according to Sassan Saedi, head of channels and partnerships at Nexmo.
"We go to all these carriers worldwide. ... We have our own agreements with them and our end-user license agreement just passes any terms that need to be passed to the end customer," said Saedi. "It's just a legal contract that you opt [into when] you create an account with Nexmo."
"Nexmo takes complex routing [contracts] and agreements and makes it simple for us," said Frederik Hannibal, CTO at Actimo, who said that all they had to do was create a client-side app on their Node.JS back end using the open RESTful APIs that Nexmo provides. A small portion runs on PHP -- but Hannibal insists happily that they will be completely swapping PHP for Node.JS very soon.
"They are the gatekeepers to the advanced functionality," said Hannibal.
But, of course, Gunge, Hannibal and their team could not rely on just any old API. Some of their customers are more demanding than others when it comes to security, especially those that face strict adherence to both U.S. and European security regulations. But according to Gunge and Saedi, these customers often recognize Nexmo as a provider of secure and trustworthy mobile APIs.
"A Danish bank we work with has insisted that we use Nexmo for security issues," according to Gunge, who said that security is an issue that is consistently brought up when working with new customers.
According to Saedi, their service is not hosted inside Nexmo, but on Amazon Web Services and what he calls "soft layer leaders" in the industry. Because of this, Saedi said they are able to remain confident that consumers of their mobile APIs will stay secure.
"In addition to that, then we make sure that everything we do preserves that security chain, and we don't expose anything along the way," said Saedi. "Our APIs are secure. Our endpoints are encrypted, and our data center [runs on] IBM's Softlayer and all the security layers it has."
Eating their own dog food
Actimo has managed to attract some powerful consumers of their mobile application, such as the German multinational engineering and electronics company Bosch, but it's important to note that they actually "eat their own dog food" with this app. Gunge said that Actimo's internal communication app is a big part of their employee onboarding process and that new recruits can access the "new employee handbook" via the app.
"We test [functions] internally a lot before releasing them," said Gunge.
Looking to the API horizon
Nexmo definitely hits a niche market with these mobile APIs, but according to Saedi the use of APIs for business is a reality that organizations can no longer afford to ignore.
"[Needed services] that you had to do a lot of programming for are now available to you through an API. ... That really makes the programmers' and the developers' jobs a lot easier in these enterprises," said Saedi. "I think five years ago, maybe it was more of a new thing, but, today, any developer [who] doesn't consider an API ... I think they're probably behind."
As for Actimo, they will continue to improve on their existing API-based communication tools, for which they are frequently rolling out new features based on customer feedback. Customers can pay to accelerate development of a new feature or simply wait for one of their regular upgrades, which happen a few times per year.
"Our challenge is to make sure that the requests of customers [are combined] into one feature that all of our customers can use," said Gunge, adding that one of the advantages of providing software as a service is that they are able to create "an intelligent pooling of needs." Gunge also said that they are continuing to develop partnerships with WhatsApp and other mobile communication apps to broaden their customer reach.
"Software is becoming a competitive advantage, and in order to operate together, you have to have APIs," said Gunge. "We are the mobile communication service that enables people to reach their mobile workforce, and that's our small part of the puzzle."
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