Most developers don’t spend a ton of time worrying about how to find APIs. There are plenty of general and specialized API directories and marketplaces to thumb through, and when all else fails, there’s always Google. But it’s a different story for developers in industries that are still playing catch-up on the technology front.
Take car dealerships. According to Mahesh Shah, the chief product and technology officer at CDK Global, which is based in Hoffman Estates, it’s not that this segment of the automotive industry is underserved. The issue is that companies traditionally haven’t given much thought as to how their technology communicates with technology built by their competitors.
“This industry has generally been fairly closed in terms of how software is built, and we want to drive more of an open model that enables software from different companies to talk to each other,” said Shah. “Think about a sales workflow. Three or four different vendors may be involved in that workflow, and if their software doesn’t communicate then the dealership has to move data from one system to the other or adjust their processes.”
CDK Global is one of a handful of companies that develops dealership-specific CRMs, marketing platforms, inventory and sales management systems. In an effort to open things up, CDK launched Fortellis, a developer network and marketplace for APIs and apps built specifically for developers in the automotive industry.
“My personal hope is that it starts unlocking more innovation in this industry.”
The idea is that by providing a single place to share and discover new APIs, developers will be able to both work more efficiently and develop more robust applications. Fortellis launched in March 2018, and the platform currently hosts 24 apps and 27 active APIs.
The apps on the platform include a virtual customer service kiosk for service departments, a customization platform that gives shoppers the ability to see how their car might look with aftermarket and manufacturer accessories installed, and software for managing sales team compensation plans. At the moment, the majority of active APIs were published by CDK developers, but there are a handful that were uploaded by third-parties.
According to Shah, Fortellis averages 1 million API transactions, or calls, a month. In an effort to court more developers, CDK recently announced a partnership with Microsoft on a GitHub integration, which lets GitHub users upload code directly to Fortellis.
CDK isn’t alone in trying to drive innovation and openness in the automotive industry. General Motors and Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, operate their own developer networks, which enable third parties to develop new technologies and integrate existing solutions into GM and Mercedes vehicles. Both companies offer software development kits to help accelerate the development process and allow developers to test their apps on real GM and Mercedes vehicles.
“No matter if it is about comparing prices online or integrating content to apps and websites, I don’t exaggerate by saying that almost everybody’s day-to-day online experience is based on APIs,” said Jan Brecht, CIO of Daimler AG, in a 2018 LinkedIn post. “For us at Daimler AG, it is one of our IT priorities to further open up and release public APIs.”
While GM, Mercedes and CDK are all working to drive the proliferation of APIs in the automotive industry, the efforts of the automakers differ in that their ecosystems are technically gated. The apps developed on the GM and Mercedes developer portals are only designed for use in the cars of those respective automakers. CDK is working toward something much more aspirational — and potentially transformative.
“My personal hope is that it starts unlocking more innovation in this industry,” said Shah. “We’re essentially just leveraging what we’ve seen in some other industries and are trying to bring it to the automotive industry. We know that this thing works.”