BBC reports that Air Malta managed to turn its business around after two decades of losses and soar with the big boys and girls in the airline industry thanks to web-based APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) – publicly available ways one company can make its data available for others to use.
As BBC explains, Air Malta is a tiny operator with 10 aircraft that had experienced two decades of annual losses. It was €10.8m in the red (£9.6m, $12.1m) in the financial year to March 2017.
“We said, this is our last chance,” explains Alan Talbot, the airline’s chief information officer.Air Malta had trouble competing with the big airlines who also shuttle tourists to Malta’s beaches and baroque buildings. It has to supplement its income doing odd jobs for the small country, including air ambulance and postal services.
API technology is part of a growing collaborative economy.
By working with other businesses and sharing data, you make it easier for them to sell what you offer as part of their own offerings. This kind of collaboration isn’t new to the industry – airlines started widespread codeshares in the 1990s, when large alliances like Oneworld and Star Alliance formed.
But back then, making back-end servers talk to each other was an expensive and cumbersome business. With APIs, this process has become fast and painless.
Ryanair, for example, started listing Air Malta flights on its website and the tech integration process took just 11 weeks “We started getting connectivity requests from third parties who never considered us as an option,” Mr Talbot says.
API interfaces also let Air Malta connect more easily to cloud-based software handling different parts of airline operations, like flight operations, reservations, and customer management, the company says.
Other companies, like car service Addison Lee, also are moving towards more integrated, cloud-based offerings in this new API economy.
Addison Lee needed to rethink its place in a “market that gets disrupted by new entrants” like Uber, says Ian Cohen, its chief information officer. And when it bought global chauffeur service Tristar Worldwide in 2016 in an attempt to expand its upmarket offerings, APIs made it easier to integrate their systems.
Air Malta and Addison Lee use a platform from San Francisco-based Mulesoft to connect their back-end systems to the cloud through APIs. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport uses a platform from North Carolina open source developer Red Hat.
Companies like Air Malta and Addison Lee have been ahead of the curve in moving to a model of co-operating with other companies.
But over the next year, more businesses are “going to migrate into a world of mainstream adoption, where this is routine,” says Michael Beckley, chief technology officer at Appian, a northern Virginia cloud computing company that works with APIs.
It will be “a new omnipresent expectation of how computer systems work – they should be collaborative, transparent, and should be scalable,” he says.
But there are special challenges with APIs too, he warns.
Companies might find APIs they rely on suddenly slowing down. Maybe the designer of a data source wasn’t anticipating a big spike in demand.
While APIs are “great at exposing data, and connecting back-office systems to new ideas,” those back-office systems “may never have been designed for that workload,” he says.
Photo Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons