API management: Seven ways to an effective strategy

Whether using an app to check-in for a flight, finding out when the Uber will arrive, or messaging a friend, an API will have connected the individual to this data.

APIs—application programming interfaces—are the unsung heroes of the application economy. Indeed, the applications wouldn’t exist without them. APIs are sets of defined rules that govern how one application can talk to another, providing ready-made, universal access to whatever functionality an organisation needs to deliver.

On the web, APIs make it possible for services like Google Maps or Facebook to let other apps “piggyback” on their platform. For example, the way that TripAdvisor displays nearby restaurants on a Google Map in its app shows APIs in action. Similarly, the way an airline displays hotel and car hire offers beside the flight reservation details.

Organisations in the UK are no strangers to the possibilities that APIs provide. A global study commissioned by CA Technologies among 1,170 senior executives finds that 82 percent of UK organisations have now adopted APIs as a strategic business tool, with one fifth using them to drive new revenue growth initiatives.

APIs stimulate conversational commerce and other innovations

APIs are also inspiring innovation. The study shows that 89 percent of UK organisations report an improvement in their ability to leverage third-party developer innovation using APIs—higher than anywhere else in EMEA. By opening up and sharing select data with third-parties, these organisations are benefiting from partnerships by exposing services to drive new revenue channels. Among these innovations are ‘conversational commerce’ services that enable consumers to interact with brands or aggregated services using chat, messaging or other natural-language interfaces. For example, instructing your mobile device using natural language to book a flight and aggregating different services together to book a preferred hotel, restaurant or taxi partner at the destination.

While APIs themselves are not a new innovation, it’s more important than ever in the digital economy to manage them effectively. That unified approach to management enables companies of all sizes, in all sectors, to level the competitive playing field, and cope better with the rising volume, scale and volatility of customer-facing apps.

API management speeds up digital transformation

An API management strategy specifically enables organisations to create secure, and optimised APIs throughout their lifecycle, and at enterprise scale. The bottom line is that API management accelerates digital transformation by bringing systems together, securing integrations, delivering better customer experiences faster and enabling enterprises to capitalise on new opportunities.

To maximise the potential that APIs can provide, organisations need a sophisticated approach to managing the API lifecycle in the application economy. The following seven steps should be considered to implement an effective strategy:

1. Define your strategy in business terms: Developing APIs in a haphazard, opportunistic way will achieve little in terms of business value. Take time upfront to define the vision, strategy and priorities for what you want to accomplish with your API programme. And make sure that you can clearly articulate the business outcomes.

2. Measure what’s most important: The true indicator of a successful API programme is how easily your customers (consumers or external developers) can use your APIs. Adopt metrics that reflect this, such as customer and partner satisfaction, and growth in transaction volume.

3. Invest in the right talent: Your own team may be comfortable using internal APIs in their work. But publishing APIs to external developers, and leveraging external APIs, requires different skills and a different mind-set. Be prepared to provide additional training for all your existing development and operations staff. If needed, recruit new talent such as API owners, product managers and analytics specialists.  Your APIs are your company’s product, treat them accordingly.

4. Provide the right 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 lifecycle. A robust infrastructure reduces cost, time-to-market and development challenges.

5. Cultivate and nurture app developers: Consider the overall developer experience with your APIs. How easy is it for them to discover your APIs? Do you provide sample code and documentation to facilitate their use? Do you support your APIs with problem reporting and resolution management?

6. Implement robust security: APIs often provide a connection to highly sensitive corporate data, so make sure that the right users, apps, and devices have the right access. To avoid costly security lapses, build controls into your API programme from the start.

7. Plan for scalability and performance: As use of your APIs expands, you will need to deploy more robust API management capabilities to enable the full API lifecycle—from design and creation to governance. To maintain a superior user experience, monitoring and management capabilities are essential to ensure that performance is not compromised, especially when API usage grows significantly.

Read more: Why 2017 is quickly becoming the year of the API economy