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The API Economy: speed, creativity and saving lives

Technology & Data

The API Economy: speed, creativity and saving lives


Application programming interfaces (APIs) enable marketers to develop apps and programs using existing data. Patrick D’souza runs through the powerful abilities they offer marketers – speed, creativity, and even  the potential to save lives.

APIs can be used in myriad different ways. To make products better, also lives. While I highlight in this article, the findings of a key report published by Deloitte’s on how APIs are changing the world and the business models that sit within it, I also explain how APIs can save time in product development and aid creativity and speed to market using examples of concepts  I developed with the very creative and innovative team at Ogilvy Malaysia.

Application programming interface – while that sounds complex, it’s not. What an API represents is fundamentally a data set to which marketers can plug into through a link that the developer has provided. Sometimes this link is free, sometimes it’s paid for.

Applications marketing, particularly on mobile, is so powerful, it led Deloitte’s analysts, George Collins and  David Sisk to comment in their 2015 report that “APIs have been elevated from a development technique to a business model driver and boardroom consideration.

Read: D’souza on mirror neurons, and how they can be used by brands to influence user behaviour »

APIs, or at least the data sets they represent, are not new.

Credit risk bureaus have provided information on the creditworthiness of individuals and corporations for a very long time. Previously, you emailed a data set to the bureau, they washed it against their data, scored the list and sent it back to you.

Now, you do it all yourself – through a link they provide.

APIs allow you to be quick

Vast sets of data already exist, preprocessed for use. Google makes its Map and Location data sets, for example, available to to users through its Google Places API. You can see where your Uber or Comfort taxi (Singapore) is on their applications as they are connected to the API (or data link) provided by Google.

Thanks to the data mined, and processed, by companies specialised in this activity, companies can tap into data, rather than recreate it themselves – saving time on product development and the speed with which they go to market.


APIs allow you to be creative

Building a global digital intranet for Emery (previously Henkel AG)

When I headed Ogilvy One Malaysia, we won a key ‘change management’ project for Emery Oleochemicals (previously Henkel, Germany). The company wanted to change entrenched attitudes of staff to allow it compete better in the marketplace.

We knew what we wanted to do from a change management perspective, what we needed was a vehicle to deliver on our strategy;  this was a global project that influenced Germany, the US and Malaysia. So we built a very quirky (by way or tone, manner, feel and content) digital intranet using Sharepoint (a mandate) that staff could relate to.

Since we knew staff wanted this to be ‘their space’, a space they could customise content, we used the simplest of API’s Yahoo News – for the news widget. This allowed staff to not only access news on the company’s intranet space (which we wanted to keep them within – as much of influence lies in the background elements that penetrate our subconscious), but also customise it to their tastes –be they ‘sport’, ‘business’ historical events and antecedents and so on.  

Showing IBM how APIs could be used to make Kuala Lumpur a smarter city

IBM’s objective has been to deliver on the promise of ‘Solutions for a Smarter City’ for a decade if not more. Using the magic and power of APIs again, we showed how we could overpin API’s with local and social information and customise them for even greater impact.

Anyone who’s worked and lived in Kuala Lumpur knows that the traffic jams there can be horrendous. And on Friday, traffic can come to a virtual standstill in streets with mosques on them at around lunch time – prayer time in the city.

By overlaying map data with mosque and other locally, and socially,  sourced info-points we were able to demonstrate  an app (it did not go ahead) that could help people get around the city faster and avoid these key congestion points.

By creating an app based product, we were demonstrating how the brand could deliver on its promise of smarter cities in a way that was relevant to local events and issues people faced daily.

APIs ultimately allow you to save

One of the biggest issues in Australia is skin cancer. Every year, 140,000 new cases are diagnosed. Both from a human, and economic perspective, it is more worthwhile to prevent skin cancer than treat it according to Professor Adele Green, of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. According to her research, if we spend an extra 16 cents per person  on prevention (education is the way to achieve this objective), we could prevent 130,000 new cases per year being developed.


Can API marketing help achieve this goal?

I think so. Some time ago, working with a Danish scientist, Dr Theresa Piedersen, who was here in in Australia to lecture at the University of Wollongong on the subject of light (twilight and early morning light are necessary to heal cells), we started to understand melatonin.

Melatonin is the body’s natural protection  against harmful UV rays. A byproduct of evolution, it gave protection to people in places with very strong sunlight. It didn’t provide this protection to people who didn’t need it – who lived in temperate climates with less harsh sun (Europe for example).

The lower level of UV and sun made fairer skinned people more energy efficient than  darker skinned people. This increased ability to absorb and process light, we hypothesise is a possible reason for cell destruction or melanoma development.

Imagine… an application that marries UV factor (available through both Google and Apple APIs) with melatonin factor (measured by intensity of skin tone).

We can calculate, to a precise point, UV intensity thanks to location based data already available on both Android and IOS. By marrying this intensity or score to a person’s melatonin structure, through a simple skin colour patch we ask people to match (perhaps adding an ‘added safety score allowance’ of about 15-20%), we could fundamentally, help people determine the amount of time they can spend safely in the sun relative to the people they’re with.

For example, a darker skinned person may be able to spend 30 minutes safely in the sun while a fairer skinned person may be able to spend just 15 minutes.

Often peer and social pressure get in the way, and the amount of time you can spend tanning becomes a subconscious contest – an unfortunate one.

The app, we’ve conceptualised, doubles as a content marketing system to help people sun – and safely.


Why are we talking about an idea rather than developing it?

Well, to be quite honest we don’t have the fiscal resources to develop this project. So, we’re looking for an company to work with to help us do so. The app requires further scientific scrutiny and input from the scientific community, the academic community, health workers, the technology community, Government and NGO stakeholders…even  the public, perhaps, but we feel that based on initial exploration, it can make a difference to what matters in Australia – and across the world – lives!

So while this piece is about the API economy, and how it can be used to improve both your products, and the speed, and creativity, with which you go to market with it, it’s also a piece that throws light, hopefully, on a dreadful and unnecessary disease, that scientists say is more beneficial  to prevent than treat.



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Patrick D'souza

Patrick D’souza is a part-time student of Applied Psychology at the Australian College of Psychology (ACAP), Sydney, Australia. He holds an MBA (High-distinction) from the AGSM (Australian Graduate School of management), UNSW as well as Bachelor in Accounting. He works in marketing for one of Australia’s top private equity, debt and capital management firms. You can connect with him on Twitter @patrickbdsouza1

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