STUCK in API-Hell
“APIs APIs APIs!! That is the future!!!!” — is what everyone is saying right now. Is that really true?
The Handshake-Problem with the API-economy
An API is basically like defined handshake. I have my defined handshake, you might have yours and if we were to shake hands, we’ll face a couple of different options which are described here. The definition of an API is an Application Programming Interface.
Simply put, it is a defined handshake which will make the process of making handshakes into something that will at least be easier than without a defined API. But it won’t solve everything, far from it. It might actually make things worse in the long run.
Let’s go through a couple of scenarios.
- We don’t have any defined APIs
If we don’t have any defined APIs it will be difficult for us to shake hands because we don’t even know how we could shake hands. And if someone else wanted us to shake hands they would have a really hard time figuring out how we could shake hands because they might not have a good idea to what languages we are talking or if we even want to shake hands.
So the first step would be to get APIs = the possibility to shake hands in a defined way.
2. We have a APIs but they are not the same
We now have our own handshakes but they are not the same. Who wants to initiate the handshake? Let’s say that one side wants to shake hands, then they will have to figure out how to do it. They can change their handshake to fit the other one’s handshake or also create something in between where the handshaking will take place. This might be anything but simple or difficult, but it adds complexity and it will take time. Let’s say you walk into a room with 20 different APIs. 20 people with different handshakes, and for every person you need to figure out what is in their handshake and how you should approach it. That will take time, effort and as we’ll describe later, it will only be 1% of the effort needed in getting to the complete solution.
3. We have a APIs and they are the same
We now have our own handshakes and they have been defined in the same way as our counterpart. We can now rest assured that things will be easier moving forward. However, the handshake is only the first part. It doesn’t mean that we speak the same languages. It doesn’t mean that we have the same values. It doesn’t really say much of how we can talk to each other, the effort it takes to talk to each other and also what language we should use in talking to each other.
Imagine this at scale.
We are in the same room. We all want to talk to each other, but we have different definitions of the same things. Or we have different definitions of different things. We speak in different languages. And everything about what we do, how we do it, is totally different. We come from different worlds but somehow, someone came up with the idea that we are going to act like one just because we share the same definition of a handshake. And someone else out there expects that it is the outcome of us working together that is the amazing thing.
Basically, this is a cultural question which relates to us people as well. Consider a merger between two companies where the culture is different even though everything else stays the same. This will be problematic and as we all know Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
It is not far-fetched to compare the definition of culture and values to that of semantic interoperability between systems considering that that definition of culture is:
“The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”
“the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”
And semantic interoperability:
“Semantic interoperability is the ability of computer systems to exchange data with unambiguous, shared meaning. Semantic interoperability is a requirement to enable machine computable logic, inferencing, knowledge discovery, and data federation between information systems.”
Semantic interoperability leaves little to no doubt as to what is inferred. Whereas cultural norms and values would be more open to interpretation. However, both play the vital role of acting as a mediator between two or more otherwise interoperable areas what could be seen as important boundary spanning elements and possible definitions of a subset of the ANT-theory by Bruno Latour.
And as such, an important piece when trying to make different things come together to make things happen in a better, future-proof way.
Culture will eat strategy for breakfast
A handshake is nothing but a handshake. It is what comes after which is the most important and exciting part. Thinking that the outcome of the merger will lead to amazing results just because you shake hands with the other company is exactly the same thing that is happening right now out there in the world of IoT. It won’t really bode well.
“According to McKinsey research, only 16% of merger reorgs fully deliver their objectives in the planned time, 41% take longer than expected, and in 10% of cases, the reorg actually harms the newly-formed organization.” — HBR
A merger is after all a clash of two systems with their own set of standardized definitions and ways of working. Just making them shake hands won’t make them work. Far from it.
“…You will have to choose one structure that integrates the two companies”
Replace companies with systems, and the two companies mentioned might not be two companies but a merger of 10 companies, i.e. Systems.
If I say tree, what do you think of?
I think about a Christmas tree.
And when I say Christmas tree, what do you think about?
- Is it a huge one outside?
- Is it indoors?
- Does it have a star at the top?
- What’s the color of the star?
- The material of the star?
- The height of the tree?
It doesn’t say anything else about anything really because we haven’t got shared definitions and boxes of what should be included in reference to what a tree is. It is partly to define the size of the boxes and what they are and also a part where we can standardize a subset of an industry with the same tagging conventions/standards.
I could write 30 more pages on this matter but let’s move on to the final words.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning needs more than a handshake
Not having the definitions set is a huge problem for the ones that want to do analysis on the data. It is again the same thing as all of these individuals send their reports to Headquarters somewhere. And the information comes from different departments, in different languages and everything is different. Hence, it is extremely difficult to make sense of the data.
The truth is that the majority of the efforts out there today are spent on 80–90% cleaning of data, the sense-making part. And 10–20% on the part where the value actually gets derived. So this is an immediate problem that needs to be solved. Because leveraging data with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is crucial for us to really make sense of the data and to achieve results never before possible.
But before that will happen, we need to come up with a way to make sense of data much faster than we are doing today.
The solutions to all of these problems
As discussed, APIs are a good start but don’t get fooled in thinking that the API economy is the end of all of our problems. As discussed over and over again (It’s important!) it might actually be the exact opposite and the beginning of a whole new set of problems as depicted above.
The answer lies in standardized protocols which can harmonize data from different vendors, acting as a device to device communication protocol. Semantic interoperability, and how to solve this issue will be of major importance moving forward. Consider it as the rule book when having made a merger and how everyone should work.
BACnet is the standardized bowl filled with pockets to fill with an industry-specific standard and IoT solutions. But the bowl and the BACnet objects within the protocol is what is needed and luckily we seem to be well on our way in realizing this for the betterment of all buildings and cities out there.
Want to get started in bridging the gap between buildings and IoT? Let us know!
Nicolas Waern is the CEO, Strategy & Innovation Leader, and a Digital Twin Evangelist at the consulting firm WINNIIO. He is a firm believer that the Real Estate Industry needs more of a lifecycle focus where we need to go Beyond Buildings and come back with an understanding what tools and technology we could use. And to solve the jobs to be done, together, with an open mindset.
Nicolas is working with leaders in several industries to understand how they can succeed in the age of AI. Predicting what the world will do in a week, a month, a year from now and to best utilize strategies and solutions that pass the test of time. He does this through a Digitalization- on Demand approach for anyone that needs to change before they have to.
Nicolas is a Podcast Creator & Newsletter Editor for Beyond Buildings
Thought Leader regarding Smart Buildings & Building Automation for AutomatedBuildings
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