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The Business of Architecting APIs

API Blog ImageAPIs are certainly in the purview of many organizations today. However, often the promises of unlocking new value streams for the business may be expressed in terms of the IT API Management capability.

While the choice of an API management technology is an important aspect of the new API economy, organizations should take precautions to ensure that API management as a technology does not eclipse the need for an API business strategy, and a business-led IT project approach. With the focus on the monetization of content in the business enterprise in the form of business functions as APIs.

This idea of monetizing enterprise content places the API in the category of a Product, which, in turn classifies the API as a business capability. This means that APIs should be as much a concern of the business architecture domain as IT delivery.

Emerging and maturing API management technologies certainly provides IT with a significant increase in development velocity to rapidly expose internal, external and partner APIs. Technical capabilities such as assembly, security, versioning, discovery and consumption, are inherently built into the API management solutions, where the creation of APIs is accomplished via configuration rather than coding. So in a relatively short order IT can expose business functionality.

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However, the API as a product should be focused on the concerns of realizing and externalizing a service based on the needs of partners, suppliers, and consumers. So while exposing APIs will accelerate business opportunities by extending business functionality, companies should also consider their current business architecture capabilities, in terms of their approach to enabling business leaders to manage API technology projects.

The addition of API management into the enterprise as an IT capability should be intimately integrated with both business model and API strategy. This signals a shift in thinking for organizations that have over the years have adopted and matured their Service Oriented Architectures practices based in SOA styles. Where SOA is primary focused on agility and the effectiveness of delivering services, and generally implemented through webservices and WSDLs. While APIs at a high level are about value chains and how the business will expose content and data based on the needs of the API consumer, using a resource oriented architectural style, microserve architectural pattern, and RESTful constraints.   

So while technically speaking APIs may be considered just another name for a service, there are some important differences that are driven by the goals of the API economy, which will drive the API strategy, roadmap and design. For this reason the technical capability of launching APIs should be complemented by, and well aligned with business architecture concerns and activities. For example:

  • Business capability mapping: providing a foundational inventory and alignment of business function and capabilities for assessing API objective, and how to position and sponsor the API.
  • Business analysis of legal considerations, terms and conditions of usage, and issues relating to intellectual property.
  • Business capability analysis: to assess what business functions and assets should be made available, and their granularity.
  • Enterprise architecture capability assessment: the organizational capability to align the elements of creation, assembly, transformation, and rationalization of Assets & Services that enable revenue growth through channels. To application endpoint consumption, entailing, discovery, composition and deployment.

These business architecture outputs should be integrated with a technical roadmap for API creation. Which involves how APIs fetch and transform data, technical analysis of API dependencies, resource analysis, and integration with security frameworks. Some additional technical considerations should include API management mechanisms for discovery, and deployment.

Certainly your approach into the world of APIs will necessitate a need for a solid technical API Management solution. However, in the exploration of these aspects you will undoubtedly find the emergence of an extensive ecosystem for API enablement. As the API economy is very much about the monetizing of business capabilities as assets, by opening up data and services, and exposing them as web APIs

In the investigation of API use cases an organizations should also plan to assess their current SOA strategy for the alignment of business and technical architecture capabilities and the respective frameworks. Other assessment considerations should include, but are not limited to; current service design approach, organizational thinking around agile program and project management with a particular focus on product management, channel models, service monitoring, IT operations, and delivery processes.

APIs are an approach for implementing the business strategy, and a means for realizing business value. While technologies for the creation of APIs will both serve and influence business decisions, keep an eye on the prize as you develop your API strategy.

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Gary Shepard

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