At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss a term like Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as the kind of technical jargon that only software programmers might get excited about. However, the implications of ‘the API economy’ could barely be less significant as organizations increasingly digitize and become data driven. In some industries it has even disrupted whole business models and become a regular board room topic.
An API is essentially a means by which different software applications can talk to each other, like a digital glue that can bond disparate systems and services together. If you have wondered how you can sign up for a new app or website with your Facebook ID rather than entering all of your personal details again, then it is down to APIs. Or perhaps to track a package you simply click a URL in the vendor’s email and it takes you straight to the information in the delivery company’s website without any re-entry of addresses or delivery ID. The YouTube video embedded on a web page, current weather conditions beamed to the home screen on your mobile phone, and price comparison site matching your details to a host of vendor prices in seconds. All made possible by the humble, understated API.
Open the gates
Software vendors are now realizing that their products need to communicate with others. For example you may wish to create a recipe that automatically switches on the home central heating when your car calculates that you are 30 minutes away. The largest benefits, however, are reserved for organizations, where slow and error prone manual handling of information can be replaced by seamless, automated work flows. But what does this all mean for construction?
Plug in to productivity
The construction industry is highly fragmented and this creates inefficiency. Productivity has barely moved in 20 years and if you can make profits of just 2% then you are doing well. Add to this the fact that the overhead of a major capital project can often represent 20-25% of the total cost, and there is clearly room to divert money from the desk back to the site.
Advances are already being made with the deployment of BIM. Asset information is assembled from a variety of systems and surfaced to a mobile app or other medium via APIs. This makes a wealth of information available at the user’s fingertips without the need to gather and integrate information manually. But there are all manner of other ancillary business processes that lend themselves to automation, not least the administration of contracts, in particular the kind of standardized forms of contract found on large infrastructure projects.
Reasons to be API
Jealously guarding one’s information in a walled garden is on its way out while sharing in a controlled, selective, and secure way is on its way in. It may take a while in an industry that is traditionally fragmented and adversarial. But the good news is that everyone stands to benefit.
By Chris Gage, IBM