If you’ve been paying attention to the API space over the last year, you won’t be surprised to hear that there has been a lot of movement amongst companies that provide API-related solutions.
The most noteworthy example is Google’s $625 million acquisition of API platform provider, Apigee, in the fall of 2016. But other examples — like the acquisition of 3Scale by Red Hat, the TIBCO acquisition of Mashery, and most recently, Oracle’s acquisition of API design platform, Apiary — are also examples of an evolving API ecosystem with increased competition and consolidation among solution providers.
While it’s easy to get lost in the furor of all these recent occurrences, it’s important to take a step back and understand what we can learn and infer from them. After all, these developments not only have impact for the stakeholders in these high profile deals, they also have immediate and long-term implications for the API economy.
Let’s take a look at four primary takeaways software teams should be considering, what this momentum means for API providers, and how they should respond as these developments continue to unfold.
1. APIs Deserve First Class Treatment
The rising interest in the API space from analysts and big tech companies indicate that APIs have great business and strategic potential. APIs enable the hyper-connected digital economy, and have emerged as important channels for distributing granular and content rich information. Twilio understood this early on, and has enabled many companies and applications, including WhatsApp, Uber and Netflix, to communicate via text and voice using APIs. Other vendors like Stripe, Braintree, Salesforce and Expedia have used APIs to expand their revenue streams. For example, Expedia generates 90% of its revenue through APIs, according to a Harvard Business Review report on the strategic value of APIs published in 2015. Success of tools like SwaggerHub and Apiary have also validated the growing acceptance of the need for a dedicated platform for enabling great APIs.
With that in mind, here’s a few tips on how to give APIs a first class treatment:
- Build with Product Management Principles: Applying product management principles and practices when dealing with APIs, with user empathy and market knowledge, is a key part of creating first class APIs. This means listening to your API’s target audience in the planning and design phases of your API development, as well as prioritizing the right resources that need to be exposed based on market research. Understanding the needs of the API’s end consumer, and learning how the API fits into their software development lifecycle, while seeing to it that the provided value is competitive in the market, is essential to building a solid API.
- Build for your Developers: Developer experience is crucial in an economy where engineers and coders are influencing the buyer’s journey and adoption patterns of products. APIs should be designed and built with the developer in mind, and must be optimized for Developer Experience (DX). DX is an extension of User Experience, and focusses on providing developers with the right interface and resources for your API for them to quickly succeed with using it. A good API developer experience goes beyond technical writing. It is about providing all the right resources that help your end consumers successfully integrate and work with your API.
- Build for Sustainability: APIs should be a long term endeavor, and must be built to last. Balancing the complexity of legacy based systems with available time, money and human resources, can be challenging for a lot of teams. This results in a minimal and less-than-ideal API, which would need a lot more iterations and updates to fully survive in an increasingly competitive landscape. To give your APIs a first class treatment, balance your resources effectively, and build an API that provides enough services for your customers to find value over a sustained period of time.
2. Vendor Lock-in for API Development is Now a Concern
When focusing on your APIs and working on providing a great experience, the last thing developers want is roadblocks in the form of vendor lock-in. With the recent spate of vendor consolidation, a lot of developers are worried about losing the flexibility to integrate with the tools and vendors of their choice.
While people are showing concerns after Apigee and Apiary were bought by Google and Oracle, it’s important to remember that both these tech heavyweights are also known for having partner programs to offer better integration between different enterprise applications. This is because there has also been a growing trend of providers investing in partner programs and vendor marketplaces. API management platforms, including Amazon API Gateway and Microsoft Azure, design and documentation platforms like SwaggerHub and Stoplight, and API discovery platforms like Mashape, are all empowering teams to integrate into their platforms, so choosing an API development tool that is platform agnostic can go a long way in a flexible and seamless API engineering.
3. API Design is Gaining Prominence
API design is the engineering of an effective interface that helps your consumers better understand and integrate with the data you expose. It involves effectively mapping your API’s resources, parameters and responses to improve your documentation and development process, as well as maintain consistency in the overall feel of the API. Think of it as the interface or contract which developers use to understand what your API is supposed to do. The success of frameworks like Swagger and RAML have shown that more and more organizations and consumers are understanding the need for good API design. Many API platforms have openly embraced the design thinking for developing APIs in their workflows, which has also greatly contributed to the evolution of the API space. The popular OpenAPI Specification has emerged as a standard for designing RESTful interfaces.
GraphQL has also emerged as a great solution for teams that are apprehensive of having their server control all the data exposed by their API. Whether you’re going REST or Graph, designing an interface that allows your consumers to better understand and integrate with your API in the shortest time possible is the premise of good API design.
Here’s two important reasons to start thinking about API design:
- Helps in better API implementation: An effective API design can help your team streamline the implementation process, leaving little room for confusion. The design process will help your team think through exactly how your core API product would work and function. It can also help in standardizing your API’s models, class nomenclature and schema, keeping your entire team aligned on the accepted way to build your organization’s API.
- Improves adoption: A well designed API makes the life of the developer easier. A common nomenclature and schema standard across all the API’s resources makes it easier to onboard developers.
4. API Lifecycle Management Is in the Cloud
There are multiple phases in the development of APIs. Taking APIs from concept to deprecation encompasses the entire API lifecycle, which has become a crucial engineering concern for companies to build concrete API solutions. Thus, enterprise grade API management solutions are becoming more popular and predominant.
Having a centralized platform to orchestrate the API lifecycle, with infrastructure automation and back end abstraction to complement these platforms, has become an attractive quality for lifecycle management. It’s no wonder then that API lifecycle management has moved to the cloud, since a cloud environment has all of these capabilities, complimented by a more connected infrastructure, better application scaling, and less hands-on infrastructure management.
Managers should not dismiss the importance of cloud vendors to empower the API lifecycle, and can learn from how other companies have viewed the cloud. After years of dismissing the cloud, Oracle, for example, is now playing catch up with a spree of cloud-based acquisitions, the most recent being Apiary to tighten its API Integration cloud capabilities.
These huge developments throughout the API industry are indicative of the growing acceptance of APIs as important enablers of business and strategic objectives. This has a lot of companies thinking about their API strategy. The influx of competition and consolidation has also validated the need for comprehensive API design and lifecycle management platforms for enabling nearly any organization to partake in the API economy.
It’s interesting to remember that at the end of the day, APIs are channels for information, and as the world’s connectivity increases, the role of APIs will only amplify. While there’s a lot of mixed reactions from the developer community to the influx of tech heavyweights within the API space, we can only hope that this leads to more innovation and growth.