Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a widely used software tool that greatly increases integration across different programs. They are going to have a huge impact in manufacturing.

For non-programmers, APIs are easy to understand by looking at the features and functions they provide. Some good examples of where APIs enable new features and better integration include: videos posted to YouTube but seamlessly played on targeted Amazon ads that use purchase history data, traffic data collected by the Waze mobile app and displayed in the Google Maps app, and social media clients and management systems like TweetDeck or HootSuite.

Both free and paid APIs create an ecosystem of interconnectivity and openness. They’ve caught on in the software world because third-party features and add-ons provide users new functionality without distracting the core service developers from their core focus. Using APIs user satisfaction with and adoption of the core service increases, but the risk of developing experimental or fringe functions is “outsourced” to anyone willing to develop with the API.

Heavy industry has dabbled with open APIs, but they have yet to attract widespread developer interest. The engineering knowledge and business expertise held in successful manufacturing companies is unlikely to be automated away, so it behooves these companies to make themselves as appealing as possible to a new generation of software development talent. Getting familiar with or even taking inspiration from top API trendsetters like Twitter, FaceBook, or Uber can give companies a considerable edge. General Electric, America’s seventh largest manufacturer, is clearly going this direction with their Predix platform and Brilliant Factory concept.

A move toward at least partially open architectures is inevitable in almost all industries because the potential gains are just too great to ignore. There may not be any good reason to connect an industrial control to a music ecosystem, social media or transportation network, but what kind of applications would the market dream up if the effort required wasn’t so high?