No matter your business – introducing an API strategy can be hugely beneficial. In our recent blog post, we considered the economic advantages, such as the ability to introduce new scalable revenue streams, optimise customer retention and enhance company-wide, internal efficiencies. Whereas in our white paper, we presented the five phases of the API life cycle, proving just how quick and easy it is to build a digital ecosystem for your business.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at key considerations for any well-planned, successful API strategy. You may already be able to quickly create and publish individual APIs with modern middleware products, but comprehensive API transformation takes time and consideration. In this article, we’ll be talking about the importance of no-code software, understanding data and process layers and appointing API teams.
The market offers a whole range of products for delivering API strategies. They vary by functionality, interface concept and which, if any, other software products they connect with – like integration and automation solutions. One key difference is quite simply who is meant to utilise the respective software. Should the user be able to code or do they just need basic IT skills? Depending on the answer, the respective tool will fall into one of three categories: full-code, low-code and no-code. The first two options require some degree of coding knowledge. No-code products, on the other hand, remove this barrier to entry, unlocking a significantly larger group of potential API developers. This broader user base offers countless benefits:
- Developing, documenting and maintaining APIs is fundamentally faster and easier with no-code software thanks to intuitive elements such as GUIs and drag & drop features.
- The ability to develop APIs more quickly translates to faster responsiveness when markets or customer requirements change.
- Available process knowledge is more diverse and specialised, as the individual departments can now help shape no-code API development.
- Involving citizen developers significantly reduces the cost of the full API life cycle. Non-tech employees, rather than expensive professional developers (in-house or external service providers), can now create, maintain and version APIs with basic training.
- By purposefully integrating in-house departments the API is more likely to gain wider acceptance and support from the workforce.
The data-process dynamic
APIs are a gateway for data – and generally speaking processes. So if APIs are used to automatically manage data, then surely it makes sense to automate up- and down-stream processes while you’re there. In other words: an API strategy should always take associated processes and data into account. But it’s not always that straightforward. Many API software environments are typically focussed on the data layer – leaving processes to be implemented by other solutions. Although working in this way is not impossible, it clearly leaves room for improvement.
Let’s consider an example to see why: a logistics service provider introduces an API for tracking its shipments – giving its shipping partners and customers access to the shipment’s current location and expected time of delivery. The transmission of data in this example clearly enhances transparency during transport. However, if the logistics company were to go one step further and include their processes, they could add even more features to the API. In-house, shipping statuses could be used for benchmarking the delivery process. There could be an additional SMS feature for customers, which pro-actively notifies the warehouse activity monitor of any last-minute changes. As you can see – considering both data and processes together increases the API’s value and utility to users.
A software environment which deals with data and processes as one offers a range of benefits:
- API strategies that consider process chains and – vice versa – processes that adapt to available APIs increase process efficiencies. Data and processes are then shaped in the same software environment and by the same people who drive automation across teams, departments and companies.
- Improved data quality is another advantage. When companies collate data from different systems, people and processes, the resulting information can be error-prone and inconsistent. Software solutions that map data and processes together and include consolidating and editing features are more likely to deliver higher data quality. If an API is used e.g. to update a customer’s account details and there is an issue, the API shouldn’t just trigger an error message. It should trigger the necessary processes to notify the customer of the issue and also outline how to resolve it.
- Last but not least, viewing data and processes as one can help improve cross-departmental collaboration. APIs then become projects that integrate data and processes which harness efficiencies and streamline operations for different stakeholders. When departments work together to create their API strategy, they share their department-specific knowledge and enhance the effectiveness of their API strategy.
APIs are a core component of every digital strategy, every business model and every industry. As they can be inward and outward-facing, they have considerable rationalisation and revenue potential. It is important not to reduce APIs to a one-off digitalisation project. Doing this runs the risk of being left with an API which no one feels responsible for once complete. What’s more, developing APIs for external users calls for more agility than developing internal interfaces. So the promise of a quick-start project to keep up with the competition can seem enticing.
Anyone looking to leverage the true potential of an API strategy and embed digital structures and corporate ecosystems within their long-term business plan should consider appointing a dedicated API team. This task force can either be assigned from the off, or introduced as a matrix organisation and incorporated within the company’s existing organigram.
API teams are made up of employees with the skills to accompany the entire API life cycle from business plan to retirement – e.g. a combination of citizen developers with the necessary expertise and IT experts who can bridge the gap to in-house tech departments. Together, this core team can efficiently and methodically drive API design and operational API management. Having a dedicated team to oversee the API life cycle ensures the development and maintenance of high-quality APIs in alignment with the overarching corporate strategy. This fosters transparency and ensures consistency.
One unique focus of any API team is its ability to shape the company’s mindset around the digital strategy. After all, effective API deployment may call for a new approach to partnerships, collaboration and coordination. API product managers can ease this transition. They are responsible for continually driving the API strategy, building the required governance structures and fostering API awareness across the entire business. Their responsibilities also include hitting any agreed API strategy milestones.
A dedicated API product team can also be tasked with creating a self-service portal, which other departments can use to access and explore their company’s APIs. This approach can help raise awareness, encourage API deployment and make it easier for other teams to find and utilise relevant features.
In all, there are many important success factors that companies should consider when introducing an API strategy. They range from deploying a no-code data-processsoftware for joint processing of data and processes to appointing an API team. If companies takes these success factors into account and carefully plan and deliver their API strategy, a myriad of benefits await – from enhanced efficiencies to improved collaboration to a solid foundation for future growth.