Seven steps to an effective API management strategy

APIs are the unsung heroes of the application economy.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using an app to check-in for your flight, find out when your Uber will arrive, or just messaging a friend: An API will have connected you 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. Think about the way TripAdvisor, for example, displays nearby restaurants on a Google Map in its app, or the way an airline displays hotel and car hire offers beside the flight reservation details.

UK organisations are swarming over APIs like bees around a hive. A new global study, commissioned by CA Technologies, APIs: Building a Connected Business in the App Economy, found that amongst 1,770 senior executives, including 695 in EMEA, 82 per cent of UK organisations have now adopted APIs as a strategic business tool, with one fifth using them to drive new revenue growth initiatives. 

Many organisations report stunning results. In the UK, 78 per cent reported an improvement in customer experience from using APIs (the second highest figure in EMEA after France), 68 per cent cited an increase in digital reach and 78 per cent experienced improvements in their supply or demand chains. But, it doesn’t stop there: UK enterprises using APIs have increased customer satisfaction by 36 per cent and cut their IT costs by 38 per cent. The majority (52 per cent) also believe their use of APIs is helping them differentiate themselves from their competitors.

APIs stimulate conversational commerce and other innovations

APIs are also inspiring innovation. The study shows that 89 per cent 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.

The adoption of APIs is also driving the adoption of new e-government services, ranging from tax filing and voter registration, to the payment of fines and social housing applications. In France, for example, a new API portal has been released by the government enabling both the public and private sector to offer citizens composite digital services, regardless of which agency offers the actual service. In Estonia, APIs underpin an innovative e-residency programme, through which citizens can perform various public services, such as setting up an Estonian company online or completing tax returns. So far, 10,000 Estonians have signed up for the service.

Here’s the ‘but’. 

While APIs themselves are not a new innovation, it’s more important than ever in the digital economy to manage them effectively. This 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 optimise 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 and enabling enterprises to capitalise on new opportunities.

The research includes an API management maturity model which assesses the degree to which organisations have implemented the tools and technologies, systems and processes, and the capabilities required for full lifecycle API management. While this part of the research only covers countries in EMEA—not specifically the UK—the model shows a significant disparity in success between organisations at an “advanced” stage of API management use versus those at only a “basic” level of use.

Here’ what the study revealed about organisations in EMEA:

  • 93 per cent of advanced API management users experience in EMEA an improvement in customer experience compared to 64 per cent for basic users;
  • 86 per cent of advanced users report an improvement in their leverage of third-party developer innovation compared to 68 per cent for basic users;
  • Advanced users experience a 40 per cent increase in customer satisfaction compared to 30 per cent for basic users;
  • Advanced users experience a 38 per cent reduction in IT-related costs compared to 29 per cent for basic users;
  • Advanced users see a 39 per cent improvement in speed-to-market compared to 35 per cent for basic users.

7 steps to effective API management

The research proves conclusively that UK organisations need a sophisticated approach to managing the API lifecycle in the application economy and below are the seven steps businesses must take for an effective API management tool

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.

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, even if API usage grows significantly.

To find out more, read the report: APIs: Building a Connected Business in the App Economy – Report, read the Infographic: Plug In and Amp Your Business with APIs – Infographic, or read the slideshare: APIs for Grownups. Alternatively, visit www.ca.com/api  

Ian Clark, Senior Director, Solution Sales EMEA, CA Technologies
Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio