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5 Ways to Transition to an API-Led Business

Rakshith Rao Co-Founder and CEO, APIwiz
Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

It seems every enterprise organization is undergoing digital transformationmodifying 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. The increasing use of software as a service has led to 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 sprawlwhere APIs 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, API adoption must be mapped out to maximize benefits and prevent API sprawl. To successfully adopt an API-forward approach and manage the API lifecycle, enterprise organizations should 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—whether to accommodate remote workers, to support mobile applications, or for some other reason. In these cases, 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 API 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 just a few staff members, funding stops, and inconsistencies and chaos result.

2. Set Clear Objectives

Any API program needs a clear set of objectives. Without direction, API 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 API development toward achieving both short-term goals and long-term objectives.

Any API program should have guidelines to meet established objectives. These might include:

  • Maintaining a portfolio of digital capabilities to ensure market agility
  • Accelerating a mobile strategy to make data and remote services available
  • Creating an omnichannel customer experience beyond web and mobile
  • Reusing APIs to transform partner integrations, increase efficiency, and free up resources
  • Reducing technical barriers through technological and business innovations that deliver new solutions
  • Eliminating data silos between internal departments by modernizing the operating model and sharing digital capabilities
  • Reducing the amount of code required for automation and solutions
  • Enlisting more partners (including competitors) by allowing them to build one or more APIs
  • Reducing customer churn and increasing indirect revenue through an API subscription model

An organization should establish clear objectives for its API program and revisit those objectives regularly to ensure alignment with the organization's vision. The organization should also communicate those objectives regularly through meetings and online resources and track performance against key performance indicators (KPIs) so that everyone feels ownership of the API strategy.

To this end, organizations can consider adopting an API-lifecycle-management platform to provide a foundation for API development. The right software can help to keep API development on track, align APIs with changing company strategies, and make it easier to share insight and resources with partners and stakeholders.

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:

  • 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 managementplacing it with a single team, such as a center of excellence (CoE). Larger organizations often establish governance with a single group and then 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.

In a product-based approach (as opposed to a project-based approach), APIs are given ongoing support. They have a variable budget and are results-driven. As such, they are marketed as a product to encourage reuse and continually adapted to meet changing customer needs. A product-based approach to APIs also ensures product ownership; there is a team focused on just API development. Product managers and the product team must agree on each API and the solution it 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 and focusing on API adoption helps prevent developers from wasting time and resources on APIs that are seldom or never used.

Focusing on API adoption requires a clear onboarding process and proper API documentation, but the importance of API 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 that developers can be up and running quickly. Step-by-step "getting started" documentation makes it easier for them to try new APIs.

Embracing an API-forward approach to digital transformation is one of the best ways to maintain business agility and scalability. Implementing any API strategy, however, requires the right tools and approach to encourage teams to adopt and maintain best practices.

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Read more articles about: Enterprise ITDigital Transformation