Alcatel Lucent’s Big API Bet

Last week Alcatel Lucent made an announcement which, at first blush, seems kind of boring. They’ve released a  methodology for creating APIs, they’ve made the methodology available through Creative Commons as a front end for a new consulting practice that helps enterprises work through the processes involved in moving to an API strategy – the development, deployment and maintenance of those APIs.

This is but another part in the strategy that Alcatel Lucent, supplier of hardware and software to most of the worlds telcos, is pursuing in an attempt to derive value not simply from the pipes that carry data, but from the very data contained therein. As telcos traditional revenue models are being disrupted rapidly, they’re too looking for ways to “smart the dumb pipes”, ALU is hoping to help them in that quest. As I wrote in a post a couple of years ago;

…carriers have a wealth of information about users; who they are, where they are, what device they are using and a host of information relating to payments, billing and authorization. However, given carriers traditional approach towards data ownership, this information is locked within the network and inaccessible to developers except for the rare occasion that developers are given access to this stream when process and pricing conspire to make it almost impossible to create a viable product.

I’ve written at length about the API economy and specifically about vendors that are creating businesses helping organizations move to an API-enabled world – vendors like Apigee, Mashery and 3Scale focus solely on this opportunity. The reality however is that there is more talk about the API economy than substance. True the number of public APIs available grows – but these are primarily in new products and services and it is through the enablement of existing products and services that we’ll really start to see the benefits of the API economy driven.

It’s for that reason that the Alcatel Lucent approach which sees organizations hand-held in the business and strategic aspects of API enablement is so important. Recently I’ve completed a large consulting engagement with an international trade organization. They were looking at ways of leveraging their core data and building an ecosystem around it – API enablement is a critical part of allowing that to happen – that’s much more of a strategic conversation than it is technical. While the existing API vendors have done a great job of encouraging this discussion to occur, arguably they’re focused, by their very nature, on the technology of the API and hence the business discussion is secondary.

API guru and all around good bloke Kin Lane agrees with this take when he opines that;

Alcatel’s lifecycle methodology moves the conversation forward into solid business, legal and marketing approaches that are critical to successfully deploying APIs and building healthy developer driven ecosystems. This move shows the API industry has matured and is ready for prime time. And the fact that Alcatel released the methodology under a creative commons license shows they get the true essence of the API movement.

It’s good to see ALU make the methodology available openly – and perhaps speaks to the direction that API enablement will head. I envisage a future where API delivery and management solutions are another offering sitting on top of cloud infrastructure, such that an API management function 9say for example the increasing of a rate limit) can be automatically adjusted in the same way that cloud infrastructure scales. In order for this to happen the very API platform needs to be constructed on its own open APIs, allowing for clear hooks between it and other platforms.

The pipes that carry our web traffic are indeed dumb. but with initiatives like Alcatel Lucent’s we have the ability to smart them dumb pipes – awesome!

2 Comments
  • The ALU releases are great – excellent stuff. However, I really don’t agree with your premise that vendors like ourselves on focus on “new services”. At 3scale we’re seeing masses of APIs which

    The idea that an API is the “gateway” to your business is something that I’ve said for a long time. This is true of many sectors from energy to construction to transport (see our customer list).

    I don’t recommend companies look for “a business model for their API”, I recommend they look for an “API for their business model”.

    No doubt that openness of infrastructure is good – we’re all for it and promote it wherever we can so that APIs from many sectors can flourish.

  • Alcatel-Lucent proposes an excellent methodology. Successful companies will identify infrastructure supporting API best practices. I’ve shared a five step plan at http://blog.cobia.net/cobiacomm/2012/07/03/five-api-actions/

    1. Embrace the Managed API
    2. Establish a Monetization Model
    3. Make APIs Easy for Developers to Access
    4. Employ Governance
    5. Monitor API Use

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