Application programming interfaces (APIs) enable different software to talk to each other—but there's more to them than that. APIs help developers design digital products and services, and they are themselves products that businesses can monetize as they undergo digital transformation.
To get the most from them, businesses need to centralize their expanding API ecosystems, including full-lifecycle and specialized APIs. But what is API management, and how can you maintain high-functioning products long-term? That’s what this post will explore.
What is API management?
API management involves centralizing control of your API ecosystem onto a single platform. You can then secure, scale, analyze, share, and monetize your APIs from design to retirement. This includes tasks like:
- Defining and publishing API schemas and programs
- Securing APIs with access control, encryption, and authentication
- Controlling and billing API traffic
- Analyzing API performance in real-time
- Onboarding new users and improving the developer experience
API management makes it easy to deploy and reuse APIs, helping you get the most from your digital assets. You can deploy API management tools in the cloud, on-premises, or in a hybrid environment, making them a flexible option for any business.
What are the benefits of API management?
Proper API management gives businesses a number of advantages, including the following.
APIs are a source of vulnerability if not protected. API management tools help organizations establish standard security policies. This ensures compliance with data privacy regulations and other external (and internal) policies.
In addition, API management platforms have robust security features, such as end-to-end encryption, role-based access control (RBAC), and security protocols like OpenID and JWT.
Time and cost efficiency
By centralizing control of your APIs, it's easy for developers to share code and documentation. This not only speeds up development but avoids duplicate work. Many platforms integrate with tools that automatically generate API metadata, software development contracts, and other documents.
Also, API management platforms come with reusable code, pre-built templates, and point-and-click functionality. That means faster innovation, less time-to-market, and lower development costs.
Image Source: apigee.com
Most API management tools offer some degree of workflow automation to boost productivity. Employees can thus focus on delivering excellent customer service, which is essential in such competitive digital markets.
Plus, workflow automation removes the risk of costly human errors, saving businesses time and money.
Reporting and analytics tools
API management solutions come with real-time monitoring and alerts to optimize API performance. They provide analytics on API usage, traffic volume, response time, and more in personalized dashboards. Developers can use these insights to improve existing APIs and guide future development.
You can also package this information into reports so everyone in the organization can use it.
API management platforms offer a ton of features to help reach your monetization goals. This makes them ideal for businesses looking to follow an "API as a product" strategy. For instance, they offer a variety of traffic billing functions and rate plans, and you can create different customer tiers by setting up API call limits.
Five principles to maintain high-functioning API products
To grow your business, you need high-functioning API products that meet your current and future needs. Below are five principles that will help you maintain these products long-term.
1. Create a solid API strategy
As your API ecosystem expands, you need to create a solid API strategy to manage it. A management strategy (Stoplight recommends a design-first approach to this strategy), helps you identify and meet the needs of APIs at all stages of their lifecycle.
First, you need to define your goals. How will APIs help you achieve your business objectives? Do you want to monetize them? Who will use them, and what are their needs? Once you understand this, you can develop standard processes to govern how your business builds, deploys, tests, and monitors APIs now and in the future.
For example, having design guidelines makes it easy to reuse elements across multiple APIs and platforms, such as Stoplight's API design platform. Likewise, security guidelines determine who has access to which APIs and help you protect your APIs long-term.
Image Source: salt.security
2. Treat APIs like products, not projects
To maintain high-functioning products, you need to develop an API product mindset. That means designing APIs long-term at scale rather than treating them as short-term, discrete projects. It should also be easy to adapt your APIs in response to changing customer needs.
How you design APIs determines how developers can use them. If you design them as part of a project, it can limit their future usage and adaptability. In contrast, if you design APIs with a product mindset, you’ll focus on reusability and ease of use, increasing their long-term value. As such, product managers, not project managers, should manage APIs.
3. Practice API-first management
API-first management means focusing on the fact that client apps use your API products. That means making APIs mobile-friendly and easily consumable. It should be easy to access, share, and integrate APIs. This ensures developers have a positive experience using your products.
To practice API-first management, align your API management pipeline with your business pipeline. APIs should be consistent and reusable, so developers don’t have to start from scratch for each new app or service.
4. Focus on the customer
To create APIs your customers will use, you need to understand their needs, preferences, and pain points. This “outside-in” perspective includes both developers and the end users they serve.
API usage data is a great way for product managers to understand customer behavior. It shows which APIs users adopt, which generate the most calls, where the bulk of the API traffic comes from, and more. This information can then inform future development. After all, a product is only effective if customers use it.
Image Source: nordicapis.com
5. Choose the right API management platform
A great way to maintain high-functioning products is to invest in an API management platform like Microsoft Azure or Apigee. Each platform has a unique set of features, but most offer robust security, full-lifecycle API management, integrations with third-party tools, and more.
To choose the right platform for your business, make a list of your requirements and evaluate each platform using the criteria below.
There are also requests for proposal (RFP) templates available online to help you do this. In fact, you can find templates for all your business needs, from API management templates to consulting proposal templates.
The cost of API management solutions varies by provider and depends on how much customization you need. For example, open-source APIs are free, while plugins, extensions, and integrations cost extra.
When choosing a platform, make sure you’re only paying for features you’ll use and that there are no hidden fees. Some platforms offer a free trial, which is a great way to try out the features and see if API management is right for your business.
Downtime is costly, so look for a platform with built-in redundancy and an SLA of at least 99.99%. Also, look for platforms with real-time monitoring tools that alert you of any outages on your preferred communication channel.
You should be able to add new features and integrations without disrupting your current services.
A good management platform lets you reuse components and templates across your API systems. Plus, you should have full API lifecycle control so you can generate products with a click.
The platform must have a full version history to track changes and revert to a previous version if something goes wrong. Also, the API gateway should field multiple API requests and return a single response.
To keep your vital data safe, you need robust API security. So, you require a solution that follows the latest data protection and security standards. This includes SOC2, ISO Standards, GDPR, and HIPAA.
Also, the platform needs a range of security features, such as RBAC, single sign-on (SSO), end-to-end encryption, real-time threat detection, and the latest authentication protocols.
Image Source: apigee.com
Your platform should be easy to scale as your business grows. Otherwise, you may have to change platforms in a few years, which can be a complicated process.
The right platform can help you expand your digital ecosystem with automated development, testing, and monitoring.
The platform must answer API requests promptly by only providing the requested information. There should be features like traffic throttling and caching to reduce latency. Plus, to improve API responsiveness, you need a gateway that can combine data from different services into a single response.
Finally, you need a management platform with high-quality data deliveries. Your APIs should consistently deliver complete, usable data in the requested format. Developers expect high-quality API deliveries, so quality responses are essential for customer satisfaction.
The best platforms track the quality of your API deliveries in real time. This includes response time, runtime events, error count, latency, and other important metrics. That way, you can quickly address errors and maintain a quality user experience.
API management is essential for businesses to manage API ecosystems and maintain high-functioning products. API management platforms give organizations a range of benefits, including robust security, workflow automation, and monetization potential.
To get the most from your APIs, you need to approach their development with a product mindset. API product managers should develop an API management strategy that aligns with the business’s overall goals. They should also use management tools to secure and analyze your company’s APIs and ensure they meet customer needs now and in the future.
Guest Author Bio: Yauhen Zaremba - Director of Demand Generation
Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, an all-in-one document management software for almost all document types including this California bill of sale template. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.