How APIs Cut Development Time by 85% and Transformed Our Business

In conversations with other companies in my industry, I often hear about “digital transformation” associated with purchasing equipment or services to solve a problem. This notion misses the greater potential of digital transformation to transform the way people work together, the way companies realize economies of scale and deliver better customer experiences through their transformation investments. The right transformations can change the way customers perceive a business.

That was our experience at Pitney Bowes. We discovered that focusing on the large-scale adoption of a critical technology and development model – in our case, API management— allowed us to create operational and organizational changes that went far beyond the benefits of technology alone.

Build and streamline with APIs

Pitney Bowes is a century-old company that for many years has focused on solutions that help customers send physical mail. We saw an opportunity to expand our core business beyond mail to include shipping small parcels and facilitating returns, both domestic and international, including handling duties, taxes and regulatory compliance customs in 220 countries. We saw a need in the market, and it was a natural extension of our business and capabilities that our customers confirmed.

DThis meant that we had to redesign our existing processes and create many new ones. An important milestone was our move to APIs, which we use to efficiently access commonly used data sources, share resources, adopt common patterns, and reuse existing technology capabilities. This well-established practice helped create repeatable processes, instead of relying on custom software integrations. Using Google Cloud’s popular API management platform, Apigeeaccelerated deployment and improved developer familiarity.

Facing the API has brought much more than technological improvements. JTeams can now more easily share resources and interact on the fly to achieve specific goals. Part of our inspiration for a consistent and repeatable “API-centric” developer model came from Southwest Airlines. Since 1987, Southwest has flown only 737 jets, which has made aircraft maintenance and rotation easier, and created a common customer understanding of what to expect on a Southwest flight. We imagined that APIs would have a similar impact for us: by consistently directing internal developers and external customers to the same well-tested and evolving technology interfaces, we now have an environment of familiarity, high reuse, and minimal exceptions. It’s a better experience for developers and helps sales and support teams better explain our solutions to customers.

API-driven development has changed the way we operate. As part of change management, we moved to interoperable teams and created a campaign of cross-organizational “micro celebrations” along our transformation journey to celebrate our victories and publish statistics on our progress. By celebrating business successes and technical milestones, we raised awareness of our new digital technologies. This built trust in our solutions and direction, a key element in creating successful change.

APIs have been critical to our continued strong growth in providing shipping services to customers. Internally, the quality of our tools, the unity of our employees and the urgency of change have enabled us to accelerate the creation of new value in the form of new applications, services and offers, over periods measured in just three or four months. . Before the consistency brought by our API environment, we saw similar projects take two years or more to complete. That’s a reduction of about 85%.

All of this has been critically important during the disruption caused by COVID-19 and its rapid rise in retail home delivery. Our API-centric approach has supported our dispersed workforce and helped us quickly engage with customers and onboard new customers – in the face of a rapid increase in consumer-focused e-commerce shipping – all aspects of our new realities under COVID-19.

Where are we going with APIs

Our next step is to use APIs to better manage our services and provide more choices for customers. Using API-based business logic, our customers can now review multiple shipping scenarios and choose the one that best fits their stated strategy, for example, the cheapest delivery route that meets specific on-time delivery criteria, or the option that uses specific modes of transport to move the package more economically, or ensure the lowest environmental impact. Our goal is to expose these rule-based scenarios and decisions as APIs and allow customers to create their own rules and scenarios that they can invoke programmatically.

We also plan to offer data science model-based functionality to customers who seek the benefits of advanced analytics in their logistics. These models are exposed as APIs, so our customers can quickly integrate the insights and predictions into their experiments. Using logistics network simulations and data-driven decision making exposed as APIs makes it easy for our customers to take advantage of our smarter logistics and delivery system, which is quickly becoming the new normal. in business transactions.

At the start of the information age, a writer noted that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”. API management has reshaped both the way we work and the way we help our customers—from small businesses, enterprises, and retailers to large marketplaces—succeed in the increasingly complex world of commerce.

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About the Author

Dr. James Fairweather, Chief Innovation Officer, Pitney Bowes

Dr. James Fairweather is Pitney Bowes’ Chief Innovation Officer. In this role, he is responsible for maintaining the vitality of Pitney Bowes Innovation.

Prior to this role, he led development, technology and cloud strategy for the Commerce Services business unit as CTO of Commerce Services, where he oversaw technology and product development while the unit has grown from a $12 million business in 2012 to over a billion. dollars in 2018. He and his team were responsible for the software development of Pitney Bowes Commerce Services, including their industry-leading cross-border and domestic technology solutions, and the integration of key acquisitions including Borderfree and Newgistics .

James is a Senior Fellow on the technical ladder at Pitney Bowes, has been with the company for 22 years and has lived and worked in the US and UK during that time.

James is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he received his Ph.D. His thesis presented a methodology for the design of active piezoceramic-driven structures using a combination of impedance-based modeling techniques and finite element methods. He holds twenty-one US patents and is a board member of the Connecticut Science Center.

He is a board member of ALULA, a management consulting firm focused on changing human behavior to improve business performance.