Over the last few years companies like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, etc. have seen phenomenal success by using a platform business model. In doing so, they have not only been able to compete successfully with well-established players across different verticals, but they’ve also been able to explore and capture new business, previously ignored or considered unreachable.
The concept and culture of application programming interfaces (APIs) determined this success, enabling service providers to reach out to a broader consumer base through faster internal processes, external service provision and rapid innovation. This allowed services to be innovated and used in situations never imagined before.
APIs principles for growth
However, not all APIs have been successful in triggering business growth, mainly because a few key principles were not adhered to:
- A primary principle of APIs is that they should allow consumers easy and specific access to services. Systems should not only integrate the services using APIs, but also to specify and receive very specific services.
- Another principle is that of flexibility. APIs have the potential to work in new unplanned scenarios, for unknown consumers. But, this is possible only if the API is easily adaptable.
- Another critical aspect is the constancy and ubiquity of APIs. Once a particular set of APIs integrate into a solution, the solution should not have to change either because of switching provider for a service or because of publication of upgraded APIs, without backward compatibility. The only reason for a solution to change should be to incorporate a superior solution.
Business beyond the telco realm
With the advent of 5G, communication services will play a role in most industry verticals as well as in cross-vertical situations. Hence the APIs providing these services are vital to the creation of next-generation platform solutions.
The first-generation platform solutions that we see today provide matchmaking services between consumers and producers within a specific domain like transport, accommodation and retail. However, the real potential is in leveraging services from different fields, say healthcare leveraging telcos. These can be combined to create new innovative solutions, which reflect more complex human needs such as those seen in telehealth. Thus services need to be stitched together using APIs from dissimilar domains to ensure seamless customer experience.
The API goals for profit and agility
Over the last couple of years, communication service providers (CSPs) have begun exploring APIs, and have started exposing APIs related to customer interface, and in some cases, communication services through APIs. However, they are yet to see the viral growth of communication services. To cross this barrier, CSPs need to become platform businesses, or enablers of such business models in other industries. That requires adopting a new, holistic approach, focusing on:
Ecosystem enhancement: A solution should consider the overall ecosystem, and the API implementations should address consumer AND producer needs, as well as enable feedback loops for self-correction and growth.
Curative features: The platform should bring efficiency in the overall system by carrying out precise matchmaking, and APIs should support the exchange of necessary information to do so.
Easy to integrate: The APIs must expose core telecom services of CSPs in a way that is easy to integrate. It should not need telecom experts to understand how to use the APIs.
Seamless, scalable and complete: The intended solution should be both complete and ensure seamless end customer experience, even while crossing over vertical domains. The solution should be designed for seamless scaling to ensure that growth opportunities are not hampered due to platform limitation.
Some of the initial deployments of TM Forum’s Open APIs have been used as a base for CSP platform solutions, and where needed, other APIs were also used (GSMA APIs, Open Banking APIs, ETSI MEC APIs, Google APIs, Proprietary APIs) to ensure completeness of solutions. The Open APIs can be used in many situations due to the separation of payload specification from the API operations. As the Forum’s Open API are industry standard, CSP risks are mitigated. Primary quantifiable benefits include a dramatic reduction in partner onboarding time from few months to a week, new revenue channels created through developer portals etc.
TM Forum’s Open API can be leveraged in other verticals (e.g. retail, banking, entertainment) in three ways:
- The API can be incorporated into the vertical platform, where telecom products/services can be purchased and consumed as part of the overall service. In this situation, the Open APIs, being generic in nature, need to be augmented with telco service standard payloads.
- On the other hand, the generic nature of the Open APIs allow them to be of use in a non-telecoms area as well. For example, TM Forum’s Open APIs can be used as a base for a platform enabling the purchase of a banking product and a health care product. This kind of usage is key to creating platform solutions which span across domains/verticals.
- Another opportunity is a situation where other vertical platform businesses can use TM Forum’s APIs to reach out to the specific customer base of a CSP. An industry standard way of achieving this which takes care of privacy, security and local government regulations, can dramatically transform the vertical’s business.
In conclusion, TM Forum’s Open APIs have applications beyond exposing telco services and can play a pivotal role in making 5G a general purpose transformer across industry segments. This would require exploring new standardization dimensions and formal integration with other telecom API specifications. Considering the current landscape of APIs across industry segments, while there is a profusion of specific published API, there is a need for generic API base, and TM Forum Open APIs are at the forefront to fill this gap.