Despite the escalating hype about digital platforms and digital transformation, application leaders must not lose sight that the most essential, basic elements of digital business platforms are application programming interfaces (APIs).
APIs make digital society and digital business work by connecting people, businesses, and things. They enable both:
developers to build today’s customer experiences, new products, and services through repeatedly leveraging data, functions, and applications
business to expresses itself via software, and they enable that business to rapidly expand into new contexts or adapt to meet changing user needs and preferences.
In modern economies APIs aren’t just some back-office technical detail —they’re mechanisms through which value is increasingly exchanged.
Take ridesharing apps. They exist partly because they can leverage existing capabilities made available via other APIs. When people order a car, a ridesharing app leverages services such as Google Maps APIs for navigation. In turn, those ridesharing companies express their businesses as APIs. This lets developers build ridesharing into new experiences, such as allowing an end-user to order a ride via a voice assistant. When the user pays for a ride with a given digital payments platform, an API enables that transaction too.
In recent years, Salesforce has generated half its revenue through APIs. For eBay, the figure has been 60 percent — and for Expedia.com, an astonishing 90 percent.
Stories like above are why so many business leaders and analysts have begun to talk about an "API Economy".
Forrester's research offers a similar point in its report “Microservices and APIs Underpin Digital Business.” “Enterprises with top priorities like changing their business models or accelerating digital business are up to twice as likely to be investing in APIs and microservices,” Forrester says.
According to the survey and research performed by the Apigee, enterprises seem to have the right broad vision for digital transformation; however, they often struggle with alignment and execution — digital efforts are moving slowly. One issue is that digital transformation usually isn’t about buying and deploying a specific technology — it’s about leveraging technology to change how business is conducted. Companies shouldn’t aim to transform from one thing into another so much as learn to shape ongoing evolutions.
The aforementioned research tells us that enterprises don't take APIs as full-fledged products, check out the numbers below:
57% of surveyed enterprises view APIs as integration tech, rather than as strategic assets or products for developers.
39% indicate they don’t measure API usage at all, and another 21% only measure exposure, not consumption or value.
Two-thirds of respondents indicate they severely lack developers experienced in modern, API-oriented application development.
32% have no API self-service, which severely impedes developers’ ability to leverage business assets. Another 26% have self-services processes that take days or weeks.
The figures above indicate that enterprises do not form goals around perpetual business evolution and do not take a holistic approach.
In Plexteq, we substantial experience in designing APIs. Our teams utilize the API product mindset, which means designing and delivering APIs for long-term value at scale and evolving them over time to meet changing customer needs. This approach contrasts with approaching APIs as one-time projects, or several discrete projects, where they deliver more limited value in terms of extensibility, longevity, and reach.
Check out great examples when APIs that we've developed allowed to accelerate our customer's product growth by building a thriving AppStore ecosystem around them.
A crucial part of an API product mindset is designing APIs like products. How an API is designed can dictate how easily developers can consume it and how easily it can be leveraged in new ways. Suppose the API is designed only to build a connection within the scope of a project. In that case, its creator might neglect documentation, consistent design standards, considerations for versioning and security, and other factors necessary for future use and extensibility.
In contrast, if API designers operate with a product mindset, they’ll prioritize ease of consumption and seek to increase the likelihood the API can continue to provide strategic value and extensibility in the future. Given that few things unite business leaders like the fear of being locked into a particular use case, strategy, or business model, the significance of this distinction should be self-evident.
The following points, according to our experience will help to succeed with building a great API product:
API product should be designed in a consistent way that developers can easily consume
API product should leverage security considerations, such as OAuth protection
API product should consider usability concerns, such as documentation and sample code
API should not be over-designed, which tends to limit future flexibility
API product usage metrics should be gathered
"You can’t improve what you don’t measure."
To provide a usable product, we have to understand how it's used and how it's performing. Hence having constant, real-time feedback is crucially important.
To define the right metrics, here are some of the typical questions that an API product manager with a customer-first, the outside-in focus would ask:
“How often is the API called?” — This is a measure of how often a developer leverages the API and can indicate often the business’s value proposition is presented to users.
“What kinds of calls are being made?” — Different API calls have a different values for both the API provider and its consumers. For example, if the value measure is direct monetization, a call to the provider’s API to retrieve product information is less valuable than one that actually places an order for the provider’s goods or services.
“Are developers changing their behavior?” — Developer consumption metrics can provide insight into the periods when API users are most active and whether engagement is increasing or decreasing.
An API-driven business may move far faster than a traditional enterprise; after all, one of the advantages of implementing an API management layer is to decouple partner onboarding and new, rapidly evolving apps from relatively lethargic and brittle enterprise systems.
Virtually all businesses want to move faster. Most have systems and functions they want to use more efficiently. Many have data full of value just waiting to be unlocked. The vast majority want to accelerate partner participation so they can focus on what they do best while relying on others to help fill go-to-market gaps and provide scale—and so they can better serve their customers. APIs designed, delivered, and managed as products can help with all of these things. They can make a company’s valuable assets and capabilities available for developer creativity. They can eliminate redundancies and accelerate development. API products can open an organization to new partners and ecosystems. And they can do all of these things fast. The journey starts with getting the first API product on the roadmap.
Whatever path an organization’s APIs take, the point is this: because APIs are increasingly how business gets done, they’ve become a fixture not only in IT conversations but also in the boardroom. Enterprises that approach APIs strategically—with a product mindset—are poised to thrive in today’s economy.
Looking for more insights about digital transformation and API development? Reach out to us to know how to implement that for your organization.