Organisational API

In our ever more connected age, I’ve been pondering that organisations need some sort of mechanism to open up to those on the outside. Or to use programming parlance, offer an API of sorts.

Before I launch into the analogy.. I’d better explain what an API is.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It’s a way to interact with a system or service using a published set of rules. Almost all of the web services that we use today have API’s. A popular current example.. Pokemon Go uses the Google maps API.

Broadly speaking, an API enables people outside of the system or service to interact with it in ways that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) of been defined at the outset. You can bet that the mapping people at Google didn’t envisage it’d be used for catching virtual animals by 20+ million people.

So why do companies like Google bother building API’s at all? Because it encourages innovation, creates dedicated communities and drives more customers to use their product.

So in this analogy, our organisations are the systems/services. They have multiple things being fed into them, and multiple things coming out of them. But, from the outside we don’t often get a chance to interact with or get a view into what’s taking place between those inputs and outputs.

Those on the outside are often passive recipients of the service. The only choice they have is to use it… or not.

Let’s assume someone has a brilliant idea for co-producing a new service with Housing. How do they approach an organisation to get their proposal heard? How could they find out if there’s anyone inside the organisation who might share this interest?

This is where our organisational API comes in. It’s a link to the outside world which tells people what they’re up to, gives an opportunity to contribute, or gives them a forum to suggest something totally new.

Obviously, I’m not talking about coding in this context. I’m referring to people and processes. So what do I mean when I say organisational API?

  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Slack
  • Open Data
  • Video
  • Co-Working
  • Unmentoring
  • Unconferences

Essentially, it’s any means to establish a connection between people on the inside and people on the outside of the organisation.

Much as Google’s API’s help drive innovation and create new uses of the service, the same could be said of an organisation which has a similar mechanism baked into it.

Some random examples of organisations which demonstrate this API to the outside world…

You’ll notice a trend amongst these names. Almost all of them use blogs to open up their process. They also build social networks and engage in discussion (not just broadcast). In many cases it’s named employees doing the talking, not faceless organisational accounts. And they are sharing work whilst it’s in progress, not just cherry picking the successful bits at the end.

As the Internet continues to rapidly connect everyone and everything, it seems entirely reasonably that organisations should encourage sharing, learning and collaboration outside of their four walls.

It is perhaps the best marker for those that are actively embracing the age of the Internet and all the benefits that come with it. As technology continues to accelerate the world around us, I think this could be one of the key factors that decides who keeps pace with change and who falls behind.

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