It’s been argued that developers are increasingly kingmakers in the software industry – so much so that software vendors, particularly at the middleware layer, have reconsidered pricing and source code availability in order to attract developers to their platform. Attracting developers to a company’s software platform is increasingly a concern for enterprises, not just software vendors. Enterprises seeking to attract developers can learn valuable lessons from software vendors experienced in the art of attracting developers.

Low barrier to entry is essential
Forrester’s Jeffrey Hammond and RedMonk’s Stephen O’Grady have both highlighted the importance of developer awareness, preference and adoption in the growing success of open source software. As the title of O’Grady’s post mentions, developers are the new kingmakers. O’Grady explains that source code availability is far less important than simply reducing barriers to entity for a particular technology. O’Grady writes:

Available Code: This isn’t necessarily about source code per se, although that’s related, but rather removing the barrier to entry for potential users of your application. I’m often asked what I believe to be the most critical success factor in projects such as JBoss or MySQL, and while the technical merits are important I believe that neither one of those projects would be where they are today without being freely downloadable. In competing with their commercial counterparts, JBoss and MySQL can differentiate simply by being easily obtained. When beginning a project, the choice is often download and get coding or head to procurement, and unsurprisingly the former is generally the preferred option. While this is certainly not a prerequisite for success, it’s a very effective means of encouraging participation in your particular community, because there’s no barrier to entry.

Particularly important is that easy access to a given technology encourages a community of users to grow around that technology. The ability for a developer with a question about PHP to find countless sources of information, either through peers using PHP or through a simple Google search played a strong role in the explosive use of PHP.

The lessons apply equally well to software of any kind, open source or not. It’s no surprise that enterprise software vendors with closed source offerings have free developer offerings and are increasingly investing in developer outreach and community building efforts.

Enterprises have platforms that need third party developers also
In fact, these lessons apply equally well as enterprises start to seek developer adoption of their own platform.

Clearly the term “platform” means something very different if one compares Microsoft’s .NET, IBM’s WebSphere or JBoss’s Enterprise Application Platform to the software platform at Sears, FedEx or Netflix. For enterprises, their “platform” comprises of the application software that codifies their core business processes. Take a retailer such as Sears for example, their platform comprises of a product catalogue, inventory management and sales promotions at a minimum. Sears web and physical presence relies on these core elements of their platform. Until recently, developers that worked for Sears were the main developer users of Sears’ software platform. But that is changing.

Today, as enterprises seek to expand indirect sales channels and overall revenue potential, enterprises are turning to free and open APIs to allow third party developers to utilize the enterprise’s software platform. I covered this trend earlier this year in a post titled “How to use open APIs for business growth“.

Attracting third-party developers with open and high performance APIs
In the previous post I covered Sonoa, a provider of API management solutions for enterprises. At the time Sonoa had two somewhat separate endeavors – Sonoa ServiceNet, a priced set of offerings for enterprises, and Apigee, a free web offering for developers.

Sonoa reached out with news that the success of Apigee with developers has prompted management to rebrand and refocus the company around Apigee. Sonoa, now Apigee, is not to subtly acknowledging the importance of developers to its business and, more importantly, to the business results of Apigee’s clients.

Apigee claims that 3 to 5 percent of Apigee Free users convert into paid customers of, at the time, ServiceNet. This is an astonishingly high conversion rate from free user to paid customer. What prompts the conversion to paying customer? Users of Apigee Free, wanted, amongst other features, to offer third party developers higher performance and the ability to differentiate quality of service based on the type of third-party developer using the enterprise’s open API.

Apigee now offers a gradual path, with increasing capability, for companies that wish to expose their APIs to third party developers.

Apigee Free: A free web-based tools platform for developers and providers to learn, test and debug APIs, get analytics on API performance and usage, and apply basic rate-limits to protect their services.

Apigee Premium: Provides advanced features on top of the Apigee Free platform, including unlimited API traffic, advanced rate limiting and analytics and developer key provisioning.

Apigee Enterprise (previously Sonoa ServiceNet): An industrial-grade API platform that provides API visibility, control, management and security.

From a third party developer, or kingmaker, point of view, using an API from a retailer that is using Apigee has benefits that lower the barrier to entry.

  • First, using an open API as a third party developer is free. With cost off the table, developers can turn to other criteria such as ease of learning, developer community and performance.
  • Second, the API is presented in a way that is simple to understand, test and learn. For instance, compare the Twitter API as presented on Apigee Free versus through the Twitter documentation on dev.twitter.com.
  • Third, enterprises that use Apigee are able to protect their internal systems from overload even while the number of third party developers using the API grows. This is critical to developers whose applications rely of the third party API being high performance.

Enterprise IT departments will be, if they aren’t already, asked by the line of business teams to expose a larger portion of the enterprise software platform to third party developers. Doing so in a fashion that lowers the barrier to entry can help drive widespread adoption of your APIs. This, in turn, can help your company increase indirect revenue channels faster than your competitors.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”