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APIs for business: What are the essentials?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio)

Application program interfaces (APIs) give developers the ability to make a difference to a business, and the best ones can create a significant impact, beyond what the product is trying to achieve. For successful API adoption to occur, businesses must take responsibility for their APIs, going further than the technical aspects and taking a critical view on how they will be deployed.

However, for developers, there are several aspects of API development that need to be considered. Each aspect is as critical to the strength and success of the product as the last, and if developers can build an API with these essentials in mind, the chances a successful product that lasts is more likely.

Without responsibility, API adoption is impossible

If developers want to consider their APIs within the context of business strategy, the most effective way is by looking beyond the technical details and think about the real-life applications in which the API will play a role.

To give developers a level of foresight during the build process, the essentials of business strategy and planning need to be applied to APIs. Seeing the bigger problem throughout the build process, such as how it applies to a business, gives developers more chance to produce an impactful API that delivers high-quality results.

If a business wishes to increase their API adoption, then being responsible for their product is the way forward. Giving teams the ability to think critically about how their product is going to have an impact on business objectives will enhance the quality and effectiveness of the product being built.

Product responsibility is vital to increased API adoption, as it gives teams the ability to think critically about how their product is going to have an impact on business objectives.

Is it the right solution?

A mistake that development teams often make is focusing on the wrong problem when building their product, which ultimately leads to an API offering that fails to meet expectations. If teams don’t validate their assumptions as they go along, they’ll end up building an entirely inappropriate product for the wrong audience.

To avoid this costly error, a clear development plan needs to be implemented from the start. Mapping out the API, and how it fits into the common usage scenarios, is an effective way of doing this. Doing this will help to portray to developers the expected workflow and how the API in question is solving the problem.

Choosing the right approach

There is a seemingly endless amount of API-related technologies on offer out there, which IT leaders can easily get lost in, leading to mismanaged resources and flagging performance. An API’s real value is in the innovations and productivity they produce for developers and businesses. They’re no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for organisations, but the foundations of the digital economy.

When building APIs for enterprises, the appropriate application-development framework needs to be selected. Business leaders need to be brought into this, as they have the business acumen required to identify the appropriate use cases for the APIs based on their needs. IT leaders are also able to support with their recommendations, based on technology feasibility, such as back-end readiness.

At this point, developers and engineers should look to set up API gateway boundaries, providing toolkits and API catalogues so that organisations adhere to best practices. The gateway’s role is to house all the APIs, capture analytics on the product’s interactions, and perform data caching.

An API that can execute a task effectively, with clarity of focus, is far more valuable to a business than an API that’s loaded with several disconnected features.

What’s the business value of what you’re doing?

A large portion of leading organisations are beginning to define their APIs in a way that creates a common language, understood by technical departments and C-suite executives alike. To achieve this, engineers need to make a distinction between APIs that provide a direct impact to the business (i.e. a product, where business input is vital), compared to those that are an enablement of a product, something that is equally as valuable in its own way.

By doing so, non-IT staff are given to confidence to communicate to developers what kind of API is required in order to deliver a customer experience. Additionally, developers can work out what kind of API is needed to provide the infrastructure needed for the experiences they’re looking to create.

The future is already here

You may think that the end goal as the product owner is bringing the API to market. However, the work has only just begun. 

Like most digital products, APIs evolve throughout their product lifecycle, maturing to meet shifting customer expectations over time. Once the initial API has been deployed, businesses unlock a whole new world of possibility that couldn’t be accessed before. The most effective way of capitalising on this opportunity is to keep the future in mind throughout the development process.

It is important for developers to have a clear idea of their API product roadmap throughout the entire development process, producing results while considering feedback from their stakeholders. Businesses can’t let architecture be defined by the software they buy, it needs to be the other way around. Instead, companies must be guided by their long-term strategic vision by building a list of the right tools for the job. Ongoing constructive criticism is needed from all invested parties, from the initial release and beyond, to gain traction and maturity, as well as trust and respect from customers.

James Hirst, COO & Co-founder, Tyk