The business case to build APIs has never been stronger, and as more organizations and leaders learn about APIs and applicable use cases for their markets, there can sometimes be a bit of a rush to stand up API programs.
While it's definitely a good move to build an API program, it's critical to first understand the big picture for your company and why APIs matter for your business model.
Here are three questions your company should be ready to explore before you begin the process of building an API program.
1. What is at the heart of the service your company will offer through the API?
Fundamentally, APIs are software that exposes certain data and enables users to do something useful with it. In general, organizations create APIs to compound the value they offer to their customers.
But before a business can build upon its value proposition, the leadership team must be able to clearly articulate how the proposed APIs will deliver that value. While this seems obvious, it's frequently a challenge for companies to pin down exactly how an API will maximize their value proposition.
Here are three lenses through which to view the API program under consideration:
- What will the API do for people?
- Who, specifically, will be using the API? What are their needs?
- What other companies are working in this space? How will your API compare?
Once you can answer these questions, you have determined the value proposition for your API and should have a sense of the competitive landscape and potential return on investment (ROI).
Successful API makers have good answers for all of these questions and then make the APIs as simple and easy as possible to adopt.
How prepared is the organization to stand up an API program?
APIs are products, and they're just like any other product your company produces in that they require investment in the form of infrastructure, people, and processes to be created within an efficient and predictable time frame.
From an infrastructure standpoint, the most important consideration is the underlying cloud or network architecture that will underpin the APIs being produced.
Does your company have enough bandwidth to handle the number of expected users? Also, consider the software and automation that will be needed to develop market-ready APIs. Stoplight is a great place to start.
You will need the right people to build a successful API program. In general, successful APIs are the product of a dedicated team — they can't simply be side projects for employees.
At the very least, a company hoping to build a successful API program must have a dedicated API manager or team leader with the skills and experience necessary to ensure consistency and adherence to a set of standards addressing best practices for security, governance, development, and collaboration.
Ideally, companies should also have a separate quality assurance function to provide a second set of eyes and reduce bugs, glitches, and updates that would annoy end users.
Processes are the third prerequisite for building a successful API program. Companies should write and disseminate formal processes for design and security, as well as a product review strategy before development begins.
The product review strategy is a particularly important element, and it should include a mechanism for modeling APIs and soliciting feedback before going live. This will ensure that the APIs meet business standards and customer needs.
If you're new to APIs, Stoplight Studio is a design tool that enables users to quickly model APIs and simultaneously get instant feedback from Stoplight's mock servers.
Does your company have partnerships in place to launch the API program?
An API is only as good as the technology to which it connects, so API makers need partners to amplify the value offered by the API and attract users. There are several types of partnerships to consider.
There are marketplace partners (such as AWS) and platform integration partners (such as Shopify eCommerce). These are generally partnerships with Big Tech companies that offer cloud-based computing, data management, analytics, security, or other applications that make the API more attractive to potential customers.
One-to-one partnerships that provide strategic value are also beneficial to companies building APIs. For example, an app like Instacart might partner with mapping or navigation API providers to bring more data and users to their API. These partnerships are typically more about synergy and how the two APIs complement each other to maximize the value they offer to customers.
Partnerships are a big piece of the puzzle, and they should be finalized — or at least in development — before launching an API program.
Ask Now to Succeed Later
Some of these questions may be hard to answer — and they are well worth the time it takes to thoughtfully address them.
If you're not sure where to begin, check out Stoplight's blogs or our API Intersection podcast that I occasionally co-host to learn more about API development and hear industry leaders discuss the ins and outs of API development.