API Strategy: The Road to Modern API Adoption

By: James Konik

APIs are critical to modern business. Over 50,000 public APIs are available now, compared to just 2000 eight years ago. As businesses become increasingly reliant on APIs, having an effective API strategy in place is more important than ever.

APIs can be set up and used in a myriad of ways. Such a wide choice offers many capabilities, but can also be overwhelming. Identifying what you hope to accomplish while working out how an API can help deliver that is crucial. With a clear plan and fixed goals, you’ll get more value for yourself and your clients.

In this article, you’ll learn how to develop an API strategy that meets your goals. You’ll learn the importance of culture in API strategy, how to build momentum, and ultimately deliver your strategy. We’ll get specific on how to choose an API strategy tool, as well as whom you can work with to identify the best strategy. You’ll also learn about a few of the API management platforms that can help you reach your goals faster.

Culture and API Strategy

For technical businesses and teams, implementing an API might seem like second nature. But for other businesses, departments, and teams, it presents a major challenge.

Gateways, REST calls, and cloud platforms sound like an alien language to the uninitiated. Proceeding with an API strategy without awareness and understanding across departments could set you up for failure. By breaking down your strategy in an accessible way, you’ll create a culture that helps you implement it successfully—as opposed to hindering it.

Accessibility has clear benefits. If everyone is involved, they’ll be more receptive to driving the changes needed to make your strategy work, as well as making their data readily available.

Fear of Change

Opening up your data creates several potential issues. Security, privacy, legality, and regulatory compliance all need to factor into your thinking. You can’t forget marketing and sales, either; they’re the ones who’ll ultimately present your vision to the wider world. 

Opening up and providing access to data essentially represents a whole cultural shift. Those that manage information may be concerned about their roles changing, or even being phased out. To avoid this, reassure teams that moving to an API-based approach makes them more valuable—rather than less.

Fear of Stagnation

The flip side of fearing change is the fear of getting left behind. Anyone in development knows evolution is essential to keep up with competition, but you shouldn’t do it blindly. There’s a huge difference between considered strategic changes and getting the latest shiny tool for the sake of it. 

Brainstorming sessions are important to the strategy process, and they’ll produce many ideas. Some of them will be great, but others won’t. Make sure to apply quality control, or your project risks being derailed.

APIs Are Complex

Designing and developing an API and its associated infrastructure requires a broad set of technical skills. Many projects demand different programming languages and databases, as well as advanced knowledge of cloud platforms. 

You can’t forget the role of testing and analytics to minimize errors, as well as to learn how people are actually using your new API. Once again, you’ll need to call on teams across your organization to successfully navigate these challenges. Marketing has to communicate to the outside world that your API exists, and legal has to ensure you’re not breaking laws or infringing on rights.

Blending all these elements into a coherent strategy is no easy task. Getting the right team, covering all bases, and mixing specialists with those who understand the big picture is essential to keep everything running smoothly.

Velocity

With so much to think about, just getting started is a challenge in itself. You have to prepare accordingly for delays, as well as minimize the problems that will inevitably arise. Genuine commitment from key stakeholders is vital, or the whole project could fall by the wayside. 

Delivering real change in organizations needs advocates for the strategy to push it forward and smash through any roadblocks along the way.

Let’s break down a few issues advocates may have to contend with.

Struggles of IT Teams

Large companies sometimes treat their IT departments as a cost to the rest of the business. We’ve all heard of—or even attended—those board meetings where IT is treated as a necessary evil, and this attitude is hard to change. However, if you can communicate to stakeholders how your API strategy helps with their own goals, they’ll be much more engaged.

APIs have many benefits and making sure these are understood can help push the culture of your company in the right direction. Showing empathy to those who aren’t onboard with the project, plus explaining what is happening and why, can really make a difference here.

Risk Aversion

Opening up data and investing time into new systems can be seen as unnecessary risk. Making changes to existing code to open it up to the outside world has the obvious potential to break things. Perceived risks such as these aren’t going to motivate those whose job it is to keep those systems running.

Again, those managing the data need to be made aware of the benefits APIs provide. Engineers working toward a tangible, visible goal are far more likely to get onboard. Include people in your changes, let them contribute their knowledge, and train them when needed.

Increasing Velocity

Taking advantage of automation tools can help you move both quickly and smoothly on your API strategy. Using the cloud as a basis for your infrastructure can make things easier; availability is high and there are plenty of pre-built solutions to use as building blocks for your new setup. Cloud solutions also scale well, while offering built-in redundancy and security.

There are also tools to help pipe data between platforms. For example, Jira, Azure DevOps, and ServiceNow have marketplace apps available to share data between them and other data sources with just a few clicks.

As we said earlier, changing culture can be as important as harnessing the necessary technologies—sometimes they go hand in hand. Balancing rapid change while supporting those resistant to that change is tough, but factoring in everybody’s perspective is often the best way to secure results.

Delivering Your API Strategy

Now let’s discuss strategy implementation. Our business goals are key considerations, but practical elements can’t be ignored when deciding on an infrastructure. You need to think about the volume of traffic you need to support and what solution works best for that. Data access for external and internal consumers is also important.

Security should also be central to your strategy considerations. If you don’t have a specialized in-house team for this, get expert help. You could even commission some vulnerability testing to hunt for issues.

API security holes can endanger your whole organization—as well as your clients. Make sure you use encryption where appropriate, and sanitize input such as parameters passed into your system by external API calls.

The security picture constantly changes as new threats emerge. Every time you do a software update, or change the version of something, you run the risk of introducing vulnerabilities. The same goes for code changes, or opening up your API to new channels.

To help people use your API, documentation is critical. It needs to precisely describe what your API does and specify the calls it accepts, along with details such as parameters and the content of responses. 

Documentation is especially critical if the API is public—its presentation and accuracy will directly reflect on your business. Documentation needs to be updated along with your code; if they diverge too much you’ll create problems for both external and internal users.

If you plan on supporting older versions of your API, then you need a way for users to switch between versions of the documentation. You’ll also need to consistently update documentation to reflect errors and changes, which means things can quickly become complex.

Thorough testing is also needed to make sure everything is watertight and prevent errors when making new changes. Beyond that, you may need to set up support functionality—think forums or feedback systems—so your API users can get help when they need it.

Using Consistent Tools

Having a consistent toolset makes it drastically easier for team members to work together. Everyone is on the same page, increasing understanding of work across the organization as a result. You also reduce the amount of organizational knowledge lost when someone leaves; a consistent toolset limits overreliance on individuals.

When teams use different tools, there might only be a few people who really know how to use each one. Plus, the information and feedback they provide might not mean a lot to other teams across the organization. With shared tools and metrics it’s easier to shed light on different parts of your business.

With shared tools and metrics, you increase understanding while not being overly reliant. Using a fixed toolset or pre-built API management solution can ensure this consistency is baked into your strategy.

Finding the Right Tool

Consistency of tools is important, but choosing the right tool for each job isn’t easy. An integrated toolset that provides multiple features is ideal. This helps you solve different problems without needing to change your setup, saving you time and money in the long term.

There are many companies offering API management services. To find the right one, you need to consider how well its feature set matches your specific needs. Reputation is helpful in guiding this decision, too; if many other developers trust a particular brand to deliver their APIs, that’s always a good sign.

Who Can Help

Specialists in API management can offer you guidance and support when setting up an API strategy. This can be extremely useful to have before you even begin coding—particularly if nobody on your team has experience in API delivery. Knowing what to include in the API and how best to deliver it are key decisions, and expert input can help you get them right.

Using a management platform can help you build and deploy your API faster and more reliably. These platforms give you an added layer of security while providing scalability. Big players on the market include Google Apigee, Microsoft Azure API Management, Anypoint, Tyk Enterprise, and more. 

Some platforms offer a free trial, including Tyk, so it’s easy to test them and find out if they’re a good fit.

Conclusion

Developing an API strategy isn’t easy. Management goals need to work with—not against—technical and security considerations. The organizational culture of your business is the backbone to that, yet striking the balance between pushing for change and not alienating those resistant to change isn’t easy. People on multiple teams need to coordinate to ensure they genuinely contribute to your shared API strategy.

Getting people on board is key, but it doesn’t mean your work is done. Challenges exist around finding time to deliver your project, while accounting for and handling every unexpected hiccup along the way. 

With all these choices to make, developing an API strategy can be overwhelming. Getting help from the right people could be the difference between success and failure. Tyk specializes in API gateway and management, helping you to plan and deliver APIs that meet business goals and connect you to the world safely.

Tyk is trusted by many clients to manage and deliver their API strategies, providing you with the tools and expertise to get the most out of your API.