by Bryan Kirschner

Where APIs and empathy meet

Oct 20, 2016
APIsCIOCloud Computing

How APIs and empathy contribute to Ticketmaster's digital ambitions.

iphone apps smartphone mobile

Last month, I kicked off a new series where I sit down with forward-looking business and IT leaders to talk about digital transformation inside their companies. It’s been an insightful, and in many ways inspiring, few weeks on the road.

In my conversations with executives about their digital transformations, I keep hearing one word come up time and time again. Much to my surprise, it’s not “disruption.” It’s not even “APIs.”

It’s “empathy.”

Across different cities and contexts (including during Adapt or Die San Francisco, an event held by my employer, Apigee), change agents have repeatedly emphasized that the best way for organizations to adapt to digital is to start by enabling the people within the organization to adapt to digital.

Jody Mulkey, Chief Technology Officer at Ticketmaster, connected the dots on how and why this model works in way that really hit home.

For context, the scope of digital transformation at Ticketmaster is about as big as they come. While some of us may associate the company with “” and the World Wide Web, the company was actually founded back in 1976.

Fast forward nearly half a century and today you have a company whose digital ambitions are on par with GE’s aim to “build the platform for the industrial Internet.” For Ticketmaster, the goal is to “build the operating system for live entertainment.” (As a musician as well as a geek, I happen to think this gives Ticketmaster some extra cachet.)

Mulkey’s personal credentials aren’t exactly beanbag either. Inspired by technology since programming on a TRS-80 in the 1980s (it takes something special to have been “inspired” by that particular experience), he joined Ticketmaster after 10-plus years as an executive at Internet startup Shopzilla. There, as he explained in words that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever worked at a startup, “We needed to know how our market’s dynamics were changing at any given moment. Staying alive meant being able to pivot to a new business model on the fly.”

So, how did Ticketmaster’s APIs contribute to more than 530 million ticket transactions in 2015?

Rather than coming in and asserting a strong point of view on mobile, digital, cloud and how they can all come together to create new customer experiences (which he had), Mulkey took a different approach: He started out by interviewing people; dozens of people from all across the company, with different roles and points of view.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t walked back an inch from previous assertions of the power of “outside in” thinking, but Mulkey’s story got me thinking. It even crystallized a new insight about the power of establishing shared context.

We all know that the market context has changed since the rise of the smartphone, and that it will continue to evolve as the dominant mode of interaction moves from apps to bots. What Mulkey’s story shows is that the same is also true of the people within incumbent enterprises.

Any one person may lack the context of a technology expert, but that doesn’t make them clueless. They are still people living in the new digital world, working to make business transactions happen within the constraints of existing systems, tools, and processes.

What’s more, while “line staff” may lack the context of senior executives — because (by necessity) they spend their day focused writing code or onboarding a partner — the opposite is also true. It is impossible for senior executives to experience the context that each seam and fault line manifests in the day-to-day work of thousands of employees across hundreds of roles.

Talking to both gives you the necessary context for understanding how to make proposals that everyone can rally behind. In effect, it’s how you establish shared context.

Shared context is about more than just sharing a vision. It also entails moving the organization to embrace a new level of openness — one where all of the data and metrics that offer insights into the organization’s shared vision are widely available.

This is where empathy and APIs meet.

When you do business through modern APIs you can “measure everything.” Every API call, revenue-share transaction, pay-for-use transaction — you name it — can be tracked and reported in real time (or close to it). This makes it possible for everyone to not only share the vision, but also track the organization’s progress towards achieving it. In other words, APIs can make it possible to give everyone access to a moment-by-moment, role-by-role feedback loop with accountability for decisions — without all the red tape.

Cloud compute cycles and other technology tools are available to everyone as a service. The CTOs that make a transformative difference are the ones who succeed in catalyzing a new way of working and a new level of comfort — from top to bottom — with all that the digital era makes possible.

That’s the lesson I take away from my conversation with Ticketmaster’s Jody Mulkey, and it’s one I hope to evangelize to others, as well as emulate myself.