This is another in a series of exploratory questions that someone might ask when kick-starting an API strategy for your company. Contact the author.
What are your important considerations before establishing an API strategy?
I’m not what one might call an exercise enthusiast (though I do enjoy working up a sweat) but Pilates has always interested me. Its appeal is that it does things in the right order. Pilates focuses on the “center” as the starting place to develop strength and that movement flows “outward from a strong core.”
So how does this relate to building your API strategy?
A part of the API strategy discussion will be around the purchasing of an API Management tool. In discussions I’ve been a part of, this topic comes up too early in most cases. While it’s not uncommon for someone to think the tool will solve the problem, everyone knows deep down that just buying the tool will not get you to your goal. Before API Management software can even begin to show its value, a business must look inward, determine the strengths of its “center”, and if something is lacking, prepare to fix it as part of the initiative.
It is very common (but becoming less so) for some to confuse API Management and SOA governance disciplines. There have been many articles written on this subject and it’s easy to understand where the confusion comes from: API Management has its roots in SOA governance and many aspects (like service life cycle, provisioning, security, mediation, etc.) are still there. I agree with idea that API Management is the next, natural extension of SOA. Typically SOA governance deals with services as they exist within the company and API Management deals with exposing these services to the “outside” via a gateway which protects the business from denial-of-service attacks and other security concerns. API Management also adds the developer ecosystem (portals, forums, etc.) and this is particularly important because if your service is not adopted and used by developers then your API program is dead in the water.
The elements of a great SOA governance program are part of the core strengths that you need to have if you want to succeed with your API strategy. If you have not had strong governance in your business (or if it is there but not followed) then this will be one of your biggest hurdles. At Perficient, we’ve found that companies that already have some form of governance in place were able build on this for SOA governance and will be able to do the same for API Management as well. For those that don’t this will be the starting point and you will need a lot of “exercise” to build up this strength. Some consideration should be given to the governance model and the proper model is described in one word: Light. In an API program, your teams need flexibility and agility to respond appropriately.
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DevOps is another common discipline that gets press these days. On the surface, the term is a joining of the development and operations organizations to streamline promotion of new features to production. The discipline has grown from the idea that the two groups are working at odds as operations seeks stability (which implies little change) and development seeks to add new features (which implies lots of change.) By combining the two groups into one, you have a group working with both areas so when an issue arises in production the right people to fix it are immediately aware of it.
Development and operations are part of the discipline, but they’re not the only ones. Business involves giving information on what new features are relevant, change management involves tracking changes, and QA involves testing and giving feedback among others. The idea is that to get your teams delivering new features and updated code in a more streamlined process you’ll have to look inward again and develop a culture of sharing and collaboration. This is a daunting task since this new mindset is very different from the “waterfall development” days that persist in so many company cultures.
The ability to go from an idea to an actual production feature as quickly and efficiently as possible is another strength supporting your API strategy.
The last item I want to introduce in this article is alignment. In any undertaking all stakeholders should strive for a sharing and collaborative mindset. The goals are larger than any personal or departmental agenda and the best way to approach this aspect is open, honest conversation. The core API team should help lead discussions and sharing sessions to include as wide a range of opinions as possible. An API strategy is one of the most comprehensive strategies that you’ll face in your business from the executive level to operations. Consider asking questions such as
- What data and capabilities should we expose?
- Who will use the API and how do we get them engaged?
- What is it about our business that makes us unique and that we can expose via an API?
- What apps for our customers or partners can you imagine and how would they create value?
These questions and more will help to show the first steps of your API strategy and because you include a broad range of colleagues there will be some genuine investment.
To summarize, when exploring an API strategy the first important step is a plan and discussion to consider all your core strengths.
- Review the governance model that your business supports. Find gaps in service lifecycle, security, provisioning, mediation, and other important areas. Keep the model as light as possible to make your teams more flexible and agile.
- Consider the process of taking an idea from conception to rollout and in as short and efficient a cycle as possible.
- Align your stakeholders and determine standards and processes that provide the basis for understanding and collaboration across the company towards your common goals.
- Start with simple changes and establish a roadmap where you mature your API strategy/program over time.
By deliberate planning and conscious efforts as you work through your API strategy conversation you will be in a position to make a solid contribution to the digital strategy of your business. Perficient’s Health Check and Quick Start Rulebook can help in these areas and more.
References and Further Reading
“APIs and Platforms: How interfaces and access enable the networked economy” by Sangeet Paul Choudary and Manfred Bortenschlager
“APIs: A Strategy Guide” by Daniel Jacobson, Greg Brail, and Dan Woods