Best Practices For Today's API Platform Architect

Today’s platform architects play an enormous role in shaping their organization’s tools, data, and APIs. They don’t always have direct access to the code, though. So, how can an architect help guide and optimize their APIs and API catalogs in 2022?

It’s a dense and tricky topic with a lot of different angles. Having a well-thought-out and executed API strategy is essential to ensure your APIs are working properly, both for your internal team as well as your customers if your API is available for consumption.

We’ve pulled together some best practices for API platform architects to help give you ideas about how to best use and maintain your organization’s growing catalog of APIs. Without further ado, here are some best practices for API platform architects.

Best Practices for API Platform Architects

1. Adopt an API Management Strategy

It’s a mistake to simply leap into implementing and developing an API. That’s a surefire way to ensure API creep throughout your enterprise and cause breaking change for your API consumers.

An API management strategy helps you define your goals for your API. It lets you identify key features and decide how best to implement them. It lets you create a detailed roadmap for every stage of your API journey.

An API management strategy involves everything from the API specification you choose to adopt to who will be working on the project. It helps create standards for things like API documentation that can be used throughout your organization, and helps you decide on key metrics that you can use to assess your API’s performance.

Some questions you might ask yourself to help put an API management system in place:

  • Does the API provide the features and functions that users need?
  • What process should the business follow for future releases?
  • Is the API secure?
  • What API authorization and API authentication solutions should you use?
  • What volume is the API handling?
  • How is your API helping you realize your business goals?

2. Adopt API Lifecycle Management

Once you’ve got an API management strategy in place, the next step is to implement the same for API lifecycle management. API lifecycle management lets you create a detailed plan for every stage of an API, so you can make sure every step flows smoothly.

The first step of API lifecycle management is API design. This is where you’ll decide what resources you’ll need to allocate to ensure you can create your API. You’ll decide on key technical considerations at this stage, as well, like what API spec to adopt and how best to create API documentation. A programming language is decided upon at this stage of lifecycle management, as well.

Next, the development begins in earnest. Then comes API testing and API deployment. API deprecation is the final stage of API lifecycle management. This is the stage most pertinent for API platform architects as it doesn’t necessarily involve the code itself.

API changes usually involve versioning, and the goal is to make changes that avoid service outages for existing customers. The API platform architect needs to ensure they have definitive systems in place to make these transitions as seamless as possible.

3. Consider an API Management Solution

To ensure your APIs are meeting expectations, you need to know what they’re doing. An API management platform lets you visualize your APIs throughout every stage of their lifecycle. It may also let you discover third-party APIs that you might use in your development projects.

API management tools have native features that cover many API platform architect’s duties, such as versioning or API distribution. Launching an API becomes more painless when you’ve got a good API management solution in your corner. They also make integrating with third-party tools easy and intuitive.

It’s also worth it to investigate cloud-based API solutions. It’s not uncommon to share APIs across numerous areas or networks. Thus, it’s in an API platform architect’s best interest to at least consider adopting a cloud-based API development solution so anyone with the proper credentials can access them, regardless of location.

4. Automate API Documentation

It couldn’t be more important that your documentation is always up to date. The only real way to achieve this without spending excessive time, energy, and resources is to automate your API documentation generation.

When you build an API using a popular format like OpenAPI, it’s quite possible to have the API documentation produced automatically using API documentation generators. This method is preferable as it’s guaranteed to always be up to date, leading to less likelihood of errors.

5. Experiment With API Gateways

API gateways act as an intermediary between all of your API demands and requests. All API calls are routed through the API gateway and then forwarded to the appropriate service. This makes for much less tightly-coupled API services, leading to fewer breakages and interruptions. API gateways are also a suitable area to add additional protection in the form of authorization and identity and access management.

API gateways make monitoring, analyzing, and visualizing your API traffic far easier. This is useful for everything from proving data compliance to producing financial reports to justify your budget for the C-suite. API proxies can sometimes be used as an alternative to API gateways, as well.

6. Adopt an API Catalog

Your organization likely consumes APIs and cloud services from all over. Thus, it’s vital to have them all in one place if you hope to keep track of them all, let alone use them efficiently. This is particularly important for API providers, as it allows you to monitor the status of all of your APIs. If you rely on third-party APIs, one break in the chain could bring down all of your digital services.

Organization is key if you want to use your APIs effectively and increase their adoption within an enterprise. As such, there are numerous ways you can organize your APIs. Many teams organize their APIs and services by capability. Or another option is to sort your APIs into multiple levels, such as Design, Specification, or Method/Operation. You might break your APIs and services down into specific layers, or organize them by business domain, as well. For example, you might group all of your sales or marketing APIs together.

Once you’ve organized your APIs, you’ll have a better idea of the state of your enterprise’s API adoption. You might notice a lack of security APIs, for instance. It will also provide invaluable insights into who’s using which APIs and who’s in charge of them. This is important for everything from API security to development.

Adopting an API catalog management solution lets you import all your APIs and services into one central console — this has a similar goal as generating automated API documentation, as it ensures everything will be appropriately formatted and working together seamlessly.

When importing your APIs, it’s a good idea to include your legacy SOAP web services, information models, taxonomy models, and business glossaries. This makes it far less likely for some assets to get overlooked or forgotten. It’s also a good idea to include the structure of each API you’re using as an abstract design. It’s good to include this for each version, as well — these abstract designs serve as a kind of service layer, acting as a buffer between customers and clients and the code. This can also help to make your API more profitable.

When possible, it’s a good idea to include as much metadata in your API as possible, too. This can help make your APIs discoverable, which can work wonders for your API adoption.

7. Implement a Governance Maturity Model

To make sure your network is operating up to its capacity, you need to be able to measure those metrics. A governance maturity model lets you put benchmarks in place, so you know exactly how your network is functioning.

A governance maturity model is a framework for assessing your network’s performance. An example of an API governance maturity model could be deciding on an API design pattern you can use for all your API designs. This could include specifics on everything from what methods you’ll use to what parameters to put into place for different functions. These standards support both top-down as well as bottom-up API development.

Information models let you dictate the exact specifications for consistent resources, like request/response payloads. API governance maturity models even let you automate key aspects of API management using validation flows using approved style guides. It can also be used to validate code in your CI/CD pipeline.

API governance maturity also allows you to configure standard services based on how often you use them. It also lets you specify non-functional requirements (NFRs) and Surface Level Agreements (SLAs). Finally, API governance maturity can be used to generate consumable runtime-ready artifacts which can deliver consistent resources using templates.

Final Thoughts On Best Practices For API Platform Architects

Just because you can’t interact with the code directly doesn’t mean you have no control over how it’s implemented, or that you should have no control over how it’s constructed. Putting these best practices in place will help get you, the development team, and your users on the same page. This will ensure your APIs will be as useful and effective as possible so that you can make the most of your API-driven tools.