Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are essential for companies looking to overhaul their operations and offerings. They have become an important factor in the digital transformation. This is especially true as companies increasingly move data and applications to the cloud. Once seen as a technical means to an end, interfaces are now a top priority strategic concern. However, developing, managing, maintaining and securing them is a challenge. APIs are not only indispensable for automation because they enable communication between applications and services. They also provide business value to a number of businesses by allowing many monetization activities.
A current study from market research firm 451 Research states that web APIs “have experienced exponential growth in the wake of digital transformation as the emergence of integrated web and mobile offerings requires significantly more data exchange between products”. In addition, according to the survey, companies now use an average of 15,564 APIs — a 201 percent increase from the previous year. The report is based on a survey of IT professionals from 350 global companies across industries.
“When it comes to defining a successful API strategy, there is no magic formula,” said Scott Hanawait, senior vice president at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. “API design is not easy and every project has its own unique needs, stakeholders and goals.” Using a specific technology or architecture style does not guarantee success, nor does supporting a specific API type. At their core, APIs should solve a real problem and make that solution easily applicable to others.
We interviewed experts to identify five key elements for a successful API strategy.
APIs have come a long way since their inception in the 1940s. Chris McLellan, director of operations at the nonprofit Data Collaboration Alliance, says, “That’s why this seemingly simple technology is so important to nearly all digital interactions today.” However, interfaces are essentially about extracting and accessing data. In the latter function, however, almost no progress has been made in the last four decades. “We still copy a lot, even sensitive data, undermining security protocols, violating compliance rules and creating complexity,” he says.
APIs provide broad access and exceptional reach, but that shouldn’t violate fundamental rights, McLellan said. “The vast majority of data belongs to specific parties and should be in the hands of the rightful owners or official beneficiaries.” Data is the crown jewels of a company. Simple access through interfaces and other mechanisms should not undermine this right to control one’s own data.
The expert is convinced that deriving more data from APIs will probably enrich the business, but will certainly also increase costs and complexity: “That is why an integrated API strategy should not be limited to applications that exchange data. Separating data from the application as it is created and stored provides greater control and better governance.”
McLellan adds that one of the biggest challenges companies face is the sheer complexity of their data management landscape. “Whether purchased or developed in-house, today it is typical for businesses to maintain hundreds or even thousands of applications, each storing data.” Add to that a multitude of legacy databases, a cluster of data lakes and warehouses, and many operational spreadsheets, and things add up quickly.
Many application-based silos in the enterprise also exchanged copies of their data through point-to-point data integration. Many CIOs would see this as an “innovation burden” that increasingly hinders projects: “By using APIs tactically, a strategy can be developed to break many of these silos,” says McLellan. It works by combining it with more secure and collaborative environments such as data fabric and dataware platforms that make information available enterprise-wide. “Once these are connected and secured, the dismantling of old silos can be evaluated,” he says.
The market research firm Gartner recently added the “Data Fabric” category to the list of the most important strategic technology trends for 2022 set. Not without reason, as McLellan points out: “One of the reasons for this is that data fabrics can use APIs to connect and mix, augment and combine data from legacy systems, data stores and artificial intelligence and machine learning tools through data collaboration Updating .” The resulting “updated” data sets can be used for new analytics, web applications, and automation. This can be done without traditional point-to-point integration and can potentially save time and money.
As access to data becomes increasingly important for solving problems, business users are finding new ways to access and use corporate data beyond the boundaries of data governance and cybersecurity policies. McLellan: “CIOs should respond not by suppressing innovation, but by enabling a more federated approach to innovation.” Interfaces are important to create collaborative environments such as data fabrics. There, everyone could work on real, operational data to create datasets and data models. These, in turn, can be used to deliver new solutions, dashboards, and automations faster.
However, an API can only help solve a problem if users know that the solution exists, says consultant Hanawait: “Making interfaces discoverable, for example via a catalog or a developer portal, helps to avoid duplication within an organization and to the market preventable solutions to third parties.” To be successful, companies should also provide the resources for API customers, ideally through self-service formats, the consultant states, “Documentation and getting started guides help developers understand how the API works.”
According to Al Liubinskas, Vice President and Cloud Integration Practice Lead at consulting firm Capgemini Americas, when developing an API strategy, companies must adopt an object reuse mindset and methodology: “This is critical to time-to-market. streamline and reduce the cost of delivering the services the business needs.”
The chief consultant underlines this with an example from Capgemini’s clientele. During the pandemic, when food service customers had to quickly deploy different delivery service providers to respond to market changes, object reuse helped significantly support business goals: “When the integration of restaurant fulfillment services was critical for our customers to reuse APIs to deliver different vendor options on board,” said Liubinskas. Multi-level reuse has enabled Capgemini to recycle executable APIs, source code snippets, API design patterns and integration patterns. According to the analyst, companies should focus on reusing existing code. This ultimately improves efficiency and lowers costs.
Pitney Bowes, a supplier of mail and shipping equipment, relies on “framework-style coding.” They store reusable proxy resources in the company’s source code repositories, which can be reused in all development work. James Fairweather, the company’s executive vice president and chief innovation officer, said, “This allows frequently reused proxy code components to be written once and maintained in one place — and all teams benefit from well-designed, reusable capabilities.”
APIs are not just there to support all kinds of back office business processes. They can also enable external services that add value to the business or improve the customer experience.
For example, another goal of Pitney Bowes’ API development strategy is to create new outward-facing services. Customers and partners must be able to integrate these into their own applications and systems. Fairweather: “The metadata about the use of APIs can be an interesting resource for taking action, predicting or solving problems.” The usage patterns of an interface and the data accessed provide opportunities to optimize the customer experience. For example, if an API is called more often than usual to track a particular packet, it could be an indication that the packet is of high value to the receiver, has been delayed or even lost. “We can then take quick action to locate the package and communicate with the customer,” sums up the IT manager. (yd/fm)
This post is based on an article from our US sister publication CIO.com.