Talktech: APIs and microservices boost data-driven business

Talktech: APIs and microservices boost data-driven businessData is becoming the new currency in the digital era. More enterprises realize that data is important to execute their strategy, and innovate new products or services. Through smarter use of data, they are able to compete or even become a game changer in their respective industries.

Yet, many enterprises are struggling to deal with data because much of the data is fragmented. In Harvard Business Review’s global survey on digital disruption commissioned by IBM last year, 84% of respondents said data fragmentation inhibits their ability to achieve business objectives on a timely basis. More than half of respondents (58%) are unable to reconcile disparate sources of data.

Data complexity & integration issue

Global general insurance company QBE Insurance operates in 40 countries. The insurer has a sheer volume of data stored across multiple offices after a series of mergers and acquisitions throughout the years. The growing complexity of data and the way of bringing disparate data together is a big challenge to the insurer.  

“As a data analytics officer, doing analytics stuff is painful. About 85% of my time is spent collecting and preparing data. Getting the data in order is the biggest challenge for me,” said Ramkumar Venkatachalam, QBE Insurance’s global head of data strategy & governance at the executive breakfast briefing organized by Computerworld Hong Kong and IBM last month.

Compared to banks, the insurer said insurance companies generally have more customer data than banks. “We have lots of information that even banks don't have. We know what are the risks of customers, the objects that are insured, where they live and so forth,” he noted.

QBE Insurance kicked off 75 advanced analytics projects across its global offices in the last four years. Managing those projects across different business divisions is a headache, including curating and validating data, doing data quality checks and metadata and linking to master data.

Creating agility with APIs & microservices

Application programming interfaces (APIs) and microservices help pull data together and bring speed and agility to companies, according to IBM.

“APIs and microservices are very useful for organizations to become more agile and faster,” said Brett Nulf, executive for API economy and hybrid cloud at IBM Asia Pacific. “APIs help them unlock data for customer insights, increase the speed of development of applications or services and create new customer experiences.”

He made reference to the IBM business The Weather Company to explain how APIs help people make actionable weather data and insights.

Weather affects every industry and business in some way—from oil and gas, aviation, retail to financial services companies. The Weather Company collects real time weather information from various sources and delivers forecasts daily. By subscribing to the company’s weather channel API, executives in any industry can reuse weather data in their planning processes or integrate it into their own applications.

Steps to create API-first architecture

Nulf suggested three steps to create an API-first architecture. The first step is to unlock data stored in enterprise systems by connecting business applications of an enterprise like CRM, ERP, database, messaging and collaboration. In so doing, enterprises are able to have a single view of their customers such as knowing where, when and how they spent money and what they bought.