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Industry Insight

Effective API management

To recap on the findings of APIs: Building a Connected Business in the App Economy discussed in my previous Industry Insight.

The study findings were as follows:

  • * Ninety-three percent of advanced application programming interface (API) management users in EMEA reported an improvement in customer experience compared to 64% for basic users.
  • * Eighty-six percent of advanced users report an improvement in their leverage of third-party developer innovation compared to 68% for basic users.
  • * Advanced users experienced a 40% increase in customer satisfaction compared to 30% for basic users.
  • * Advanced users experienced a 38% reduction in IT-related costs compared to 29% for basic users.
  • * Advanced users see a 39% improvement in speed-to-market compared to 35% for basic users.

Companies need a sophisticated approach to managing the API life cycle in the application economy. The key is to understand how this can be achieved.

Life cycle management

Creating a new API is just the beginning of a life cycle through which the API will evolve, mature, and ultimately, reach the end of its usefulness. Building a new API is a long-term commitment and users should strive to have the fewest number of APIs possible.

It is all too easy to build a proliferation of APIs, causing a confusing jumble of functionality and a support and maintenance nightmare. Companies must include the evolution of their APIs as part of their design process to ensure they build in both forward and backward capability.

Future versions of APIs must continue to support apps using previous versions, and leave enough flexibility in their initial designs to allow API evolution and the addition of new capabilities to future versions of their APIs. As a company's API savvy and use grows, it will need a system in place in order to track API versions, gracefully sunset old or outdated APIs, and ensure the latest API versions are adopted as quickly as possible. A forgotten older API could be an unintended backdoor into its systems, and it also has to be mindful to maintain backward compatibility as needed to ensure its partners and its own older applications continue to operate.

APIs are not a "build-it-and-they-will-come" technology.

APIs are an essential tool for delivering new value to customers and partners quickly and at scale. A few critical considerations will help these efforts deliver on their full potential:

Discoverability

It can be difficult to find the right API for the right task, and the company's APIs will be no exception. APIs are not a "build-it-and-they-will-come" technology. If a company wants people – third-party developers, partners, and its own developers – to use its APIs, it needs to get the word out and document how to use them. This should include sample code that can serve as a helpful starting point for developers learning to use the company's APIs.

Invest based on value

Just because a company can build an API, it doesn't mean it should. Avoid the temptation to build new APIs simply in response to their popularity; choose API investments based on their value to the company's customers and its business.

Carefully evaluate the use cases for new APIs – or enhancements to existing ones – to ensure they are clear, compelling and provide lasting value. Any new API developed should have at least one initial user to ensure the API is fulfilling a concrete and well-defined need.

Plan and build for the long run

It's important to take the long view in building out an API programme. APIs that are built and deployed today may be in use for many years. Architect APIs carefully to be able to adapt to the changing needs of the business.

Maintain the smallest set of APIs possible to minimise development overhead and needless complexity, and keep in mind that every API added to the portfolio has an ongoing cost.

APIs are a foundational technology; ensure the APIs are designed and built with sound architectural principles at a high level of execution quality. Any deficiencies in the design and implementation of the APIs will be magnified as their use increases. Make sure any shortcomings are quickly addressed and the quality of the API technology is constantly improved.

Focus on developers

Developers are the target audience of a company's APIs. Just as it must consider the value an API delivers to customers, the company must also consider the developer experience with its APIs.

The company's goal must include maximising developer productivity. This includes high-quality design and execution of its APIs and high-quality sample code and documentation to accelerate adoption and increase the effectiveness of the APIs.

A company must be ready to support its APIs with problem reporting, tracking and resolution. Its APIs should do as much work as possible to remove as much complexity and overhead from the developer as possible. Building the needs of the developer into the company's API programme will help ensure both development velocity and product quality.

Scalability, security and performance are essential

A well-designed, well-supported API portfolio is just part of the API picture. A company's APIs must also deliver consistently secure, reliable, high performance operation. Security must be a core feature of every API a company builds to ensure it never compromises its customers' trust.

A company must ensure only authorised users have access to its APIs; it protects sensitive data and privacy; and it responds quickly to new threats. Performance and reliability are also at the heart of a high quality user experience.

A company must design and implement its APIs to provide consistently high performance and to be able to quickly scale to accommodate use.

In my final Industry Insight, I will explain how an API strategy must be defined in business terms.


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