Editor’s note: this is the third in a series of blogs that provides insight into our new eBook, “Building Successful APIs”. As the leader in enterprise API solutions, we want our customers, partners and other stakeholders to be informed and knowledgeable about the options available to them.
Looking at the previous blogs in this series, we’ve created the right environment in which to create an API, and we’ve considered how to reconcile IT and business needs. Ensuring that a platform is optimized and there are adequate technology resources and human capital dedicated to the task is really where this sort of thing should start. You could say that at this point, our ducks are (mostly) in a row and we’re prepared to get to the heart of what will happen as a result of having an API. What we need now is an API strategy.
Purpose drives any process, and there’s no reason in embarking on a project to extend your platform and application capabilities unless you have a purpose for your API. The primary purpose, in addition to being functionally sound, is that it serves the needs of your users. Being transparent to the user means that the API driving it now serves a human purpose. Ultimately, that should be the key piece of your strategy.
What you probably have currently is a great application that, if implemented across an enterprise, will provide great value. But a worthwhile application increases in value when it serves specific purposes that enable your customers and other users to use it in a way that makes them “stick” to your organization. A payment application that’s really good at processing transactions with a bank is helpful and valuable. But if it’s got a great, usable and easily navigable UI that makes the life of the user easier, there’s a much greater likelihood that the user will become a repeat user. And therein lies the purpose of your API in the first place – drive usage that translates into brand promotion, economic transaction and increased profits.
When you know whom and what your API will serve, it needs to be agreed upon at the business and IT levels. Agile and lean methodologies come up as the keys to ensuring alignment across an organization, but really it’s about simple agreement. We discussed this in a previous blog Building Successful APIs: Measure twice cut once , but it’s worth noting that that doesn’t exist in and of itself as a need. We’re talking about a true meeting of the minds, and during the course of the strategy planning; the API should be documented in a way that clearly defines the APIs that will be needed over the strategy lifetime as well as a clear definition of what the strategy lifetime is. These should be mapped to either existing or new business functions, which are, in turn, mapped to existing or new IT functions.
At this point, you probably have a “stack” of sorts – you’ll have your products and their related functionality, there will be integrated products and partner connections that enhance the capabilities of your products, and then there are your APIs. You must remember that the purpose of the APIs is to truly extend all of your IP in such a way that you can generate new revenue channels. Because this is such an essential element of our business, you need to now codify this into an API Strategy Statement. Even if you don’t frame it and put it on the wall in the lobby, you should at least go through the exercise of putting it together. Doing so will help you think through all the details of what’s required and what you need to accomplish.
Making sure key players agree on a clear, simple strategy statement, and making sure everyone on the team is on board with it, helps ensure that the project starts and continues on the right track. One side benefit is that differences in vision and direction come to light and can be resolved before the project starts.
As an example, the API Strategy Statement for an ERP platform that is focused on growing its reseller channel into different verticals might read:
“Our API strategy is based on developing APIs that enable reseller partners to create industry vertical add-on solutions, fulfilling the business objective of revenue growth by building a closed, highly professional developer community that creates applications that we monitor and govern closely.”
At this point, your team should have a grasp of the “why” of your business drivers. You should also put some effort into the “how”, and some additional detail is required at this point. To truly ensure you’ve thought through all aspects of your API strategy, consider discussing and analyzing these aspects with your team:
- Existing APIs, if any and what they do.
- Planned APIs that haven’t yet been delivered.
- The urgency of delivery and the possible staging of the delivery.
- Whether the requirements require an API at all.
- Whether this is a purely externally facing API, internally facing, or both.
- Whether existing Services in your service-oriented architecture (SOA) can be leveraged either partially or wholly.
At this point, you should have a well-considered API strategy on which you can rely to generate new channels with partners and customers. If your team can commit to this strategy, and adapt when necessary, it won’t be long before you start to realize the benefits of using APIs to increase your reach and profitability. We will go into more detail about it in the next blog in this series, and you can get a more comprehensive view of it in our eBook, Building Successful APIs, available for free on our Web site.