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APIs - The strategic enabler for the digital business

Ian Clark, Senior Director for API Management Solutions at CA Technologies explains how an API management strategy can help enterprises innovate and address the challenges of opening the digital enterprise through APIs.

We live in the application economy. An inter-connected, mobile application-based world where you can book a flight from your phone, order an Uber car through your Facebook account, or monitor your health from a wearable device.

According to research conducted by Zogby Analytics and commissioned by CA Technologies, about 50 per cent of consumers worldwide have used apps in the past six months to engage in social media, shop, research a purchase or watch a video.

To get maximum value from the data underlying these and millions of other services, businesses need to seamlessly connect their data to consumers, partners, developers, mobile apps and cloud services. Step forward the application programming interface (API). APIs are not a new concept, having been around for many years. They use an agreed set of rules that determines how one application code speaks to another.

However, the application economy has unleashed a new opportunity for web APIs - one that gives businesses a standardised way to open up information assets in the enterprise including service oriented architecture (SOA) assets across the Web, mobile devices, and the cloud. This in turn enables companies to innovate a new stream of services, geared to giving customers a superior digital experience with the potential to grow revenues, improving public services delivery, enhance consumer omni-channel options - and much more. For example, APIs make it possible for services like Google Maps or Facebook to let other apps ‘piggyback’ on their offerings.

There’s a race on to meet consumer-driven demand for more applications, and the global software developer community is relying on APIs as the short cut to real-time business data and services.

For example, APIs allow a developer writing a retail mobile app to quickly display locations on a map, enable payment services, or allow users to share their purchasing activity through social media simply by accessing the Google Maps and Facebook APIs. The only limitation is the imagination of the application developer.

Sharing data with customers, mobile apps and cloud services

Here’s the problem. When developers, partners, mobile apps and cloud services share data using APIs, they come up against a formidable set of challenges, including integration, security, service level and data adaptation. An API management solution helps businesses securely expose their data and application functionality for use beyond the corporate firewall, while maintaining the highest possible standards of security and governance.

Let’s take a look at each of these challenges in turn and how API management solves the problem.

  1. Integration

Enterprise data and applications are more complex than a Starbucks coffee menu: an intricate mesh of standards, protocols, programming languages and styles abound. And if APIs are not delivered in a format that developers can readily use, developers will struggle to create innovative and valuable new applications.

An API management layer can mediate and hide the complexity of legacy SOA services to expose developer-friendly REST APIs. The result? The accelerated deployment of innovative services.

  1. API service level management

Enterprise resources are finite, and a flood of API requests - a sudden rush of concert ticket orders for example - can quickly overwhelm a system. API management can control the flow of requests (termed ‘rate limiting’) to attempt to smooth peaks. The setting of quotas for each API can be used to monetise the API, and collect API usage metrics for business insight.

  1. Managing developers

To maximise the true value from APIs, organisations need to embrace and manage the community of internal and external developers; thereby making it easy for developers to build the innovative apps. An API management solution enables companies to on-board, enable and manage these developers to create apps, through a full-featured developer portal.

For instance, the portal enables them to register for APIs and access interactive API documentation, sample request and response code, testing tools and discussion forums. The developer is king and in this fast moving highly competitive environment the proposition is to accelerate the time to market for your enterprise apps via the developer community.

  1. Security

API management solutions secure enterprise data to meet the toughest compliance and regulatory standards and manage which apps, developers and partners can access APIs. API management creates a trusted security layer around APIs to ensure they can only be accessed by trusted applications and users - thereby combating misuse or possible attack on backend business systems.

Forrester Consulting research found that API management improves the time-to-market for revenue-generating applications that depend on APIs. Results show a 97 per cent time improvement to deploy apps that require integration with multiple data sets - from 90 days to three days. Moreover, respondents reported a 275 per cent return on investment on their API management toolset and a payback period of 12 months.

API management solutions make it simple for even the most security-conscious organisations to open their information assets for use by partner organisations, third-party developers, mobile apps and cloud services - without impacting data security or the performance of backend systems.

Full-featured API management solutions also provide functionality for managing the developers who build applications that leverage enterprise APIs.

An API management platform is a key component of an enterprise’s digital transformation strategy. It addresses the challenges of integration, service level, security and the developer community when exposing APIs for business innovation.