5 Pillars of Modern API Maturity

5 Pillars of Modern API Maturity

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The API space is constantly evolving, driven by technological advancements, changing business needs, and different customer patterns. API program priorities are evolving, too, as we push for strategic value and tangible ROI. As a result, the pillars of API maturity in enterprises are shifting too. In this article, we’ll recap why this maturity journey is so vital for organizations in today’s climate and explore these modern pillars in more detail.

Why Is API Maturity Important for Organizations?

API maturity and benchmarking are critical factors for organizations of all sizes looking to stay competitive and digitize their business. By evolving a mature API strategy and program, organizations can:

  • Drive digital transformation and innovation. We’re all trying to connect disparate systems and data sources in a standardized way using APIs. Doing so maturely creates a foundation for innovation to support new business models, emerging market opportunities, and faster application development using reusable components. No wonder then that the top API-first companies and products have a collective valuation of over $1.5 trillion USD.
  • Improve efficiency and productivity. Mature API organizations are leveraging automation and simplifying workflows to reduce developer overhead, tackle the threat of API sprawl and redundancy, and drive increased productivity and cost savings across their landscape.
  • Foster cross-functional collaboration and integration. API maturity enables organizations to build a comprehensive API ecosystem. This allows them to work more closely with internal cross-functional teams, as well as with partners and customers, for better integration and ultimately better solutions.
  • Enhance customer experience. Maturity enables that goal state of creating a 360-degree view of the customer, so we can provide personalized, frictionless, and targeted experiences that meet customer needs and preferences.

The 5 Modern API Maturity Pillars

API maturity, like API strategy itself, is multi-dimensional and ongoing. As the API space and the broader digital landscape continue to evolve, here are five modern maturity pillars for successful organizations.

1. “Basic” API Maturity Milestones

There are a handful of areas that are now ticket-to-entry when it comes to API maturity. You may already be excelling at these points, which is a great start.

The first maturity milestone is establishing a distributed runtime landscape. Most organizations have now stood up at least two API gateways in their runtime architecture, as well as other platforms and environments for different API and integration types. These include legacy ESBs (event service buses), event engines, iPaas (integration platform as a service), and IB (integration broker), to name a few.

Automated API testing is another area of maturity you’ve likely adopted. This helps with quick and reliable validation of API functionality and performance. There are a variety of free tools that provide this — Postman is probably the most well-known.

There’s also been a big focus on how to accelerate API design and development and streamline the process of creating and deploying new APIs. This need is common for both top-down business-led projects and integrations on a project-by-project basis.

Finally, developer enablement is a key early maturity milestone. Here you’ve likely been working on improving the developer experience, fostering communication across developer communities, and implementing a range of developer-focused tooling across the API lifecycle.

Maturity evolution for these areas involves ongoing optimization to meet emerging trends. For example, many enterprises are now considering how they can introduce flexibility across their distributed runtime landscape to be more responsive and actively prevent vendor lock-in.

2. Good API Coverage Aligned to Business Needs

This pillar ties into the ongoing move towards an API product management mindset of APIs that are aligned to business needs and treated as strategic assets of the organization. Success here requires taxonomy and business capability alignment, proper cataloging (shifted-left of gateways and runtime), reporting, and observability, and cross-functional collaboration.

Enterprises need to confidently understand their entire API landscape. This includes knowing what you already have and what capabilities are being exposed (across all API types, categories, and platforms). This also includes understanding how well-governed and reusable the APIs are and knowing how and where they are adopted. All this should be tied to a top-down, domain-driven process for filling in any coverage gaps.

3. Streamlined API Lifecycle Management Across the Enterprise

The API lifecycle management (APILM) market is still growing at a healthy rate of 10.9% CAGR. But modern maturity in this area requires APILM that’s automated, frictionless, and democratized across the enterprise. Do so in a scalable way across all protocols and patterns you’ve adopted (as well as those you’ll adopt in the future).

Mature organizations are scaling lifecycle management by streamlining the APILM framework itself, making a repeatable process from planning to iteration and deprecation. Yet, they cater this framework to different personas, both business and technical users, who may each have their own lifecycle when interacting with APIs. APILM must also consider the lifecycles of the artifacts themselves (designs, specifications, product bundles, and versions). Lastly, it must consider the tooling ecosystem and how users interact with said tools (such as access controls and user journeys).

Done right, an investment into APILM ensures organizations promote high-quality content to multiple consumer experiences (like developer portals and marketplaces). An effective API supply chain is a critical component of a good API marketplace or portal. It’s the process of sourcing, curating, tailoring, and managing APIs made available for consumption.

4. Great API Governance that’s Empowering and Transformative

We all know good governance is important for ensuring API completeness, consistency, and reusability. And, of course, from an API security standpoint, with poor security costing organizations up to $75 billion a year, compliance-related governance is critical too. But done maturely, governance can help weaponize your API architecture and accelerate transformation and innovation.

Mature API governance is:

  • Federated and self-service in nature, helping developers and other roles across the lifecycle make effective decisions for their APIs guided by the right guardrails.
  • Automated and quick, with an easy resolution for violations (without having to manually interrogate the API code).
  • Flexible based on the use case, API type, or category, so the process isn’t rigid. After all, a business capability API or one handling sensitive data will need far more governance rules than a one-off internal integration API.
  • Transparent, so it’s reportable, understandable, and empowering.

5. Flexibility by Design

The final pillar of API maturity is flexibility by design. Our enterprises need to be responsive and futureproof, and flexible enough for us to quickly swap in and out technologies and platforms as we evolve and priorities change. For example, adopting data mesh as part of a distributed architecture. As well as the basics such as modular design and standardized interfaces, abstraction can help build in this flexibility. Stripping away the complexities of APIs and holding them as abstracted designs that are agnostic of implementation not only helps a wide audience understand our APIs better, it bakes in flexibility, responsiveness, and futureproofing of a mature enterprise from the outset.

Closing Thoughts

API maturity is an ongoing journey, and these pillars will continue to evolve. Based on my work with large enterprises, here are some final tips to ensure you’re on the right path.

Firstly, take the time to properly define your API maturity strategy and roadmap: what matters most to your organization right now? Breaking the process into manageable chunks can make the overall journey less daunting.

Secondly, ensure you’re finding ways to leverage expertise across your organization: collaborative innovation and ideation can help maturity grow naturally.

Thirdly, invest in the proper tooling: instead of a “one-size-fits-all” API platform, leverage the expertise of specialized vendors in the aspects of maturity you’re most focused on now and in the near future. And look for those that can easily connect to and maximize the value of your existing investments.

And finally, continuously measure, improve, and evolve your maturity efforts!