API Strategy 203: Building Business Value with a Framework for API Success

Build a strategic framework for realizing the business potential of your APIs

In Lesson 202: How to Drive Business Value Through APIs, we explore the key ways APIs can deliver real-world value to a business. In this lesson, we outline a strategic framework for realizing this potential value. The lesson addresses four key areas focused on API strategy but also touching upon elements of API design and management. Specifically, we discuss: 

  • Business Strategy: Alignment & Usefulness
  • Business Tactics: Engagement & Usability
  • Architecture: Scalability & Evolvability
  • Operations: Manageability & Security

Alignment & Usefulness Although best practices associated with each of these four areas can bring immediate value to a company starting out with APIs, business strategy is the most fundamental to delivering business value. There are two key requirements for having a successful API business strategy – one internal and one external:

  • Internal APIs should align with the organization’s business goals
  • External APIs must be useful to a target developer audience

Defining a clear set of business goals internally is vital to API success and the APIs a company invests in must help advance the company's core business goals. In fact, the vast majority of API business successes have come from enabling and increasing the effectiveness of existing business models, not from inventing new business models.

So for instance: a manufacturer of retail goods might launch an open API in order to create new channels for revenue; a media content provider could expand its reach through making an API available to distribution partners; a financial institution could meet operational cost reduction targets through reuse of enterprise services.

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Once you have created a strategy for aligning your API program with your broader business goals, you need to start thinking what kind of developers you will need to engage as part of this strategy and how you can ensure that your APIs are useful to these devs, empowering them to simultaneously add value to their apps and your business.

Engagement & Usability Having drawn up an API business strategy designed to meet the needs of a specific developer audience, you can move on to tackling the tactical aspects of engaging and empowering this audience. Even if your target developers work for your company or a partner organization, you cannot simply assume they will be willing or able to effectively leverage your APIs.

When deciding upon tactics for empowering developers, there are two main guidelines you should always keep in mind:

  • Focus on engaging your target developers
  • Make it easy for these developers to use your APIs

These guidelines go hand in hand. Developers want to get up and running as quickly as possible – mobile devs, in particular, gain a huge advantage from being quick to market. So to engage developers, you must provide APIs that do what devs need, that are easy to use and that come with tools for enabling developers to reduce development cycles and time to market.

To help your enterprise architects ensure the APIs they create are as dev-friendly as possible, you should collaborate with them to formulate metrics that will make it possible to assess how usable the APIs are and understand how future iterations might improve usability (e.g how long the average developer takes to get their app executing its first successful API call).

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Scalability & Evolvability With your business strategy and developer management tactics in order, you have a good start to your API program. To maximize the chances of long-term success, you must also work closely with your enterprise architects and other technical resources in order to ensure they design, implement and manage your APIs in ways that facilitate the program’s strategies and tactics.

While every use case will be unique, there are certain technical aspects of any API that must be in place to meet the common goals of alignment, usefulness, engagement and usability. Specifically, your APIs must be scalable and evolvable – able to grow with your business and adapt to changing requirements over time.

This is not just about scaling up to a maximum capacity. It’s about right-sizing the APIs and the API infrastructure and maintaining the flexibility needed to support changing business and technical needs. In addition to being able to scale up and down as your business needs fluctuate, your APIs must also to be able to change and adapt over time.

The key to supporting this evolvability and ensuring that you are not introducing obstacles that will hinder you down the road (while understanding that some obstacles will nevertheless crop up) is working with your architects to ensure they adhere to a set of basic enterprise architecture best practices, including:

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DO

  1. Focus on the horizon Enterprise architecture is not just about the technology that you put in place today. It is also important to be looking at the long term and anticipating future needs rather than getting caught up with minutiae of the present.
  2. Synthesize multiple perspectives You should also be integrating information from your business goals, organizational culture, enterprise institutions and external forces to determine the guidelines that will help your solutions evolve and grow.
  3. Impose appropriate constraints While you cannot dictate everything about the way your enterprise architects deliver the technical implementation of your API, you can put in constraints that will guide them in the right direction.

DON’T

  1. Obsess about standardization Do not try to be so constraining that you do not give people enough flexibility and room to move. In fact, the more you define things, the more likely you are going to be impacted by change.
  2. Only care about technology The API implementation must take a diverse range of factors into account, such as business goals and existing organizational structure. It is vital to ensure your architects aim for strategic goals, rather than focusing on delivering purely technical solutions.
  3. Favor the model over reality Remember, the API model is a way of abstracting principles that have worked in real-life use cases. This model is unlikely to fit your business perfectly, so your implementation must focus on meeting your strategic goals, not on fitting into this model.

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Manageability & Security Now that we have covered business strategy, business tactics and architectural concerns, we can move on to operations and the final area addressed by our framework – the manageability and security of APIs. The two fundamental tenets to adhere to in this area are:

  • It should be easy to see and control an API’s activity
  • An API should only give the right data to the right consumers

This is the one set of concerns that can be most effectively addressed by technology—specifically, a full-featured API Management solution that includes specific functionality for: API analytics and reporting; implementing API-centric identity and security; building and managing API infrastructure and operations.

These components can be delivered most effectively by an enterprise-grade API Management platform – in other words, a complete solution that can plug into your existing enterprise systems while still delivering the state-of-the-art functionality required by the developers to whom you will be catering.

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