Embracing an API-forward approach to digital transformation is one of the best ways to maintain business agility and scalability.
It seems every enterprise organization is undergoing digital transformation, modifying business processes for greater efficiency and to meet customer needs. Establishing a formalized API program is an essential part of digital transformation. But what does it take to transition to a successful API-led business?
First, let’s consider the growing need for APIs. With the growing demand for software-as-a-service, there has been a paradigm shift in enterprise infrastructure. Rather than embracing a monolithic architecture with centralized business processes, businesses are adopting microservices that can be added as needed. Deploying microservices enables more agility, but for every service, there is a separate API. Organizations adopting microservices to drive digital transformation now cope with API sprawl, where they proliferate without concern for consistency, compliance, or governance.
Companies that embrace an API-first approach are seeing numerous benefits, such as greater agility, easier integration, and shorter time to market. However, their adoption must be mapped out to maximize benefits and prevent their sprawl. To successfully adopt an API-forward approach and manage the their lifecycle, enterprise organizations must consider five key elements:
1) Gain Executive Sponsorship
Too often, an enterprise API program starts when the IT staff is tasked to integrate existing systems to accommodate remote workers, support mobile applications, or for some other reason. Organizations adopt a bottom-up approach to meet partners’ immediate needs or address a pressing internal problem.
While the IT department can jump-start an API strategy, any initiative will need executive sponsorship to have a lasting impact. Without senior management buy-in, API resources and budget will be limited.
API management is only as important as the other high-priority initiatives driving it. Without support from senior management, APIs become the responsibility of a few staff members, funding stops, and inconsistencies and chaos result.
See also: Are Industry-Specific APIs the New Norm?
2) Set Clear Objectives
Any API program needs a clear set of objectives. Without direction, their development will be driven by day-to-day needs with no consideration for long-term plans. Having a central API plan will give decision-makers the parameters and metrics they need to guide their development to achieve short-term goals and long-term objectives.
Any API program should have guidelines to meet established objectives, including some of the following:
- Maintain a portfolio of digital capabilities to ensure market agility.
- Accelerate a mobile strategy to make data and remote services available.
- Create an omnichannel customer experience that goes beyond web and mobile.
- Reuse APIs to transform partner integrations, increase efficiency and free up resources.
- Reduce technical barriers by fostering technological and business innovations to deliver new solutions.
- Eliminate data silos between internal departments by modernizing the operating model and sharing digital capabilities.
- Reduce the amount of code required for automation and solutions.
- Enlist more partners (including competitors) by allowing them to build one or more APIs.
- Reduce customer churn and increase indirect revenue through an API subscription model.
Establish clear objectives for the API program and revisit them regularly to ensure they continue to reflect the vision for the organization. Also, communicate those objectives regularly through meetings, online resources, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other incentives so everyone feels ownership of the API strategy.
3) Maintain Consistency
Maintaining an API-forward operation requires governance. That doesn’t necessarily mean a rigid set of rules and processes. Even a minimal degree of governance can promote API consistency throughout the organization. Any set of API rules should have sufficient flexibility to support requirements that change over time.
An effective API governance program should include various disciplines:
- Repeatable API design processes and tools
- Self-service instruction, live training, and other means to share API knowledge across the organization at scale
- An API catalog that gives users access to resources they need before they build their own APIs
- Well-defined API standards, protocols, and designs in a style guide with automated enforcement through API linting rules
- Automated testing of every API in the catalog.
Some organizations centralize API management, placing it with a single team, such as a center of excellence (CoE). Larger organizations often establish governance with a single group and expand into a federated API coach program to scale governance across the company. Federated governance establishes API coaches within specific business units. The central API governance team works with the federated coaches to gain insights and make improvements while still promoting API consistency.
4) Adopt a Product-based Delivery Model
Most API development projects have a fixed timeline and budget. While this may address immediate problems, it limits opportunities to adapt APIs for future needs. Using a product-centric delivery model allows APIs to mature and change as needed.
By adopting a product-based approach, APIs are given ongoing support. They have a variable budget, are results-driven, and generate reusable APIs. They also are continually adapted to meet changing customer needs and are marketed as a product to encourage reuse. It also ensures product ownership, so there is a team focused on just API development or product managers, and the product team must agree on the API and the solution the API will support.
Treating APIs as products requires teams to think beyond pure API development to solve real business problems. Delivering an API as a product requires assessing the needs of stakeholders, identifying their needs, delivering APIs to meet those needs, and gaining feedback for ongoing improvement.
5) Focus on API Adoption
An API program is worthless without adoption. Promoting adoption avoids developers spending time and resources on APIs that are seldom or never used. Focusing on API adoption requires a clear onboarding process and proper API documentation.
The importance of documentation is often overlooked. Good documentation is essential if developers are to understand what the API has to offer. Developers also need immediate results. A clear onboarding process ensures developers can be up and running quickly. Step-by-step “getting started” documentation makes it easier to try new APIs.
Embracing an API-forward approach to digital transformation is one of the best ways to maintain business agility and scalability. However, implementing any API strategy requires the right tools and approach to encourage teams to adopt and maintain best practices. Consider adopting an API lifecycle management platform as a foundation for their development. The right solution can keep API development on track, align them with changing company strategies and make it easier to share insight and resources with partners and stakeholders.