Defining the API strategy in business terms

The value proposition should show the measurable business benefits the programme will offer to the company.

Michael Brink
By Michael Brink, Chief technology officer of CA Southern Africa
Johannesburg, 27 Jul 2017

Developing application programming interfaces (APIs) in a haphazard, opportunistic way will achieve little in terms of business value. Companies must take the time to define their vision, strategy and priorities, but specifically, they must decide what it is they wish to accomplish with an API programme.

For an enterprise API strategy to succeed, a company needs partners to integrate its APIs into their own applications and solutions. It can't wait for developers to seek out the company. It needs to identify and engage developers it believes can contribute to its success.

Successfully driving adoption of its APIs requires aggressive marketing. And, in a fast-paced, highly competitive app economy, first to market often wins the day. So, to that end, it's worth considering a programme of incentives for early adopters of APIs.

Hello world

A company's marketing efforts also needs to emphasise how easy its APIs are to use. The number of developers who have already registered with the API programme - and the level of activity the company's APIs are driving in the developer community - can serve as valuable endorsements. And tracking the time from developer registration to "hello world" can help convince other developers that the company's API represents the fast track to market.

* Measurement

A true indicator of a successful API programme is how easily customers (consumers or external developers) can use APIs. Businesses must adopt metrics that reflect this, such as customer and partner satisfaction, and growth in transaction volume.

* Get the right talent

A company may have a situation where they are comfortable using internally developed APIs in their work. But publishing APIs to external developers and leveraging external APIs requires different skills and a whole different mindset. Companies need to be prepared to provide additional training for their existing development and operations staff.

In a fast-paced, highly competitive app economy, first to market often wins the day.

More importantly, if new talent is required, such as API owners, product managers and analytics specialists, recruitment of these skills is essential.

* Infrastructure

The foundations of a successful API programme are the tools and processes that enable the creation, testing, publishing and management of APIs throughout the life cycle. A robust infrastructure reduces cost, time-to-market and development challenges.

* Cultivate app developers

Consider the overall developer experience with the company's APIs. How easy is it for them to discover the company's APIs? Does the company provide sample code and documentation to facilitate their use? Does it support its APIs with problem reporting and resolution management? If the answer is "no" to these questions, a rethink is necessary.

* Robust security

APIs often provide a connection to highly sensitive corporate data, so make sure the right users, apps and devices have the right access. To avoid costly security lapses, controls must be built into an API programme from the start.

* Scalability and performance

As use of APIs expands, it will be necessary to deploy more robust API management capabilities to enable the full API life cycle - from design and creation to governance. To maintain a superior user experience, monitoring and management capabilities are essential to ensure performance is not compromised, even if API usage grows significantly.

Next step

API 'owners', in collaboration with the company's API evangelist, have to take responsibility for crafting a clear API business strategy and communicating this to executive level decision-makers as well as the architects and developers who will implement the technical side of it.

The first step is to establish a clear business objective and a vision statement for the API programme that is aligned with the company's broader vision. An API is not a purely technical solution and should be treated as a product or business strategy in itself - albeit one embedded within the overall enterprise business strategy.

With this in mind, the next step is to build a business model around this vision, outlining the details of the costs, resources and efficiencies, ie, the systems, relationships, activities and other resources the programme will leverage.

Moreover, how will the programme empower the enterprise to make better use of these assets as well as the details of value, revenue and innovation? The latter refers to the customers, markets and channels the programme will target and how technical innovation will make it possible to generate new revenue from these targets.

The core of this business model should be a value proposition that clearly outlines the real, measureable business benefits the API programme will offer to the company.

With full API life cycle management, companies can efficiently plan, design, publish, secure, scale, consume, and monitor APIs, creating a flexible foundation to build apps and services that connect legacy systems with modern services such as micro-services and containers (Docker).

However, they must also provide common app features and consistent security, together with a strong developer ecosystem, improving developer onboarding, collaboration, API discovery, code generation, documentation and smart analytics.

Robust API strategies ensure modern, scalable and resilient applications that are easier to build and maintain, cost less to develop and speed up time to market.