Summarizing SmartBear’s 2021 State of Software Quality Report

Posted in

Another year, another illuminating industry analysis by SmartBear. The sixth iteration of SmartBear’s annual report dives deeply into its namesake once again — analyzing how evolving API trends have made an impact. SmartBear shares that APIs have become synonymous with many businesses and, therefore, drivers of brand awareness. It’s also crucial that these APIs meet or exceed customer expectations — especially as the software market grows more saturated.


SmartBear surveyed 1,600+ global API practitioners across 18 industries. Users of Swagger, Collaborator, SoapUI, and ReadyAPI were the primary focus of SmartBear’s latest survey. The largest subset of respondents held the following positions:

  • Multi-disciplined developers (40.3%, lead by full-stack developers)
  • Architects (14.5%)
  • QA professionals (11.4%)

However, many more professionals chipped in. Purposefully or otherwise, SmartBear did an exceptional job including professionals from all organizational sizes. This prevents data from skewing towards one demographic. The only slight outliers were those from organizations with 501 to 1,000 employees — accounting for 11% of all respondents.

IT and service consultants were best represented this year (34%). Next came the finance, banking, and insurance industries — with hardware, software, or electrics nipping at their collective heels.

Now, let’s jump into some key findings from each focus area…

API Development Strategies

Overall, it seems that API-centric organizations are becoming more seasoned—perhaps unsurprising, considering another year has passed since the last survey. It’s not entirely clear whether SmartBear polls professionals from previous years (in part), yet we do know this:

  • 22% of organizations have 10+ years of experience developing or providing APIs (vs. 18% in 2020)
  • A slightly-larger proportion of organizations aren’t sure about their API experience
  • Fewer organizations from almost all other experience brackets are represented this year

Let’s discuss motivations. 2021 data shows us that most organizations leverage APIs to reduce development time or cost, provide internal interoperability, and extend functionality within products or services. Cost reductions jumped in importance. While not as pivotal, APIs are driving compliance and social user engagement more than before.

Performance, developer experiences, and uptime remain leading API-success indicators. Web development is still king, though mobile development isn’t lagging too far behind.

API Tools, Technologies, and Methodologies

Overall, API-related tools must be easy to use. Two-thirds of professionals value approachability and nearly the same percentage favor strong integration. Implementations must also be easy. Opinion begins to split (51% and 50%, respectively) on the importance of reusability and cost. Most respondents rely on source control, documentation tools, and CI/CD tools to support API development.

The story on API protocols gets a little more interesting. REST reigns supreme, with SOAP taking silver by a wide margin. However, SmartBear discovered the following:

  • 81% of respondents say their organization uses more than one protocol
  • 57% of organizations use three or more protocols
  • 70% of the largest companies out there favor SOAP
  • GraphQL and Apache Kafka have grown in popularity

Some household names are still on top in their respective categories. OpenAPI (Swagger) leads the pack for API documentation. The majority of respondents still use GitHub religiously. Finally, AWS API Gateway is the leader for management and deployment.

API Consumption

Almost three-quarters of organizations both develop and consume APIs —mostly in line with trends from the last two years.

What exactly do API users need from an API? Ease of use leads the way, followed by accurate documentation and reliability. When issues do arise, the API developers themselves still handle most complaints — though noticeably less so than last year. Consumers are now more likely to seek alternative options, review SLAs, or report issues to external parties.

API Testing and Quality

SmartBear also noted some interesting developments here. The largest organizational brackets are most likely to have formal testing processes. Across all demographics, a good chunk of respondents plan to adopt new processes in the future.

However, top-notch quality isn’t always guaranteed, and the reasons behind that are many. The largest proportions of respondents blamed workload and time constraints or increased delivery pressures.

Accordingly, 75% believe that API quality is very important or extremely important to their organization. That’s encouraging news. However, new challenges and expectations could impact these numbers moving forward.

When quality falters, there’s now a greater concern over missing deadlines and SLAs than before. Accountability is a great thing —especially given the importance of APIs to an ever-expanding group of SaaS vendors.

API Monitoring

SmartBear’s findings here are brief yet insightful. Sixty percent of organizations have formal monitoring practices that track performance, uptime, and usage data. Of those without processes, 25% plan to adopt something concrete.

The top three provider concerns are as follows: ensuring availability (45%), maintaining performance (36%), and preserving predictable functionality (27%). Availability is also a top-three concern for 83% of survey takers.

API Documentation

Large organizations are most likely to document their APIs, yet even the smallest are rapidly catching up. More professionals now view documentation as a top priority. Across all organizations, just 6.8% of respondents on average say that documentation procedures are missing and not prioritized.

Time is the largest obstacle standing in the way of documentation. Similarly, 33% feel their documentation needs improvement, while 29% feel theirs is of average quality. Twenty-eight percent view their docs as “good” or “very good.” Compared to 2020, perceived documentation quality has dipped a bit.

Most teams use OpenAPI and related definitions while creating documents. API consumers seek out examples, status and errors, and authentication when evaluating help content.

API Design

While design is important for a consumption-based product, only the most prominent companies most commonly have established design practices, yet less than half claim it’s also a top priority. This is where smaller companies are struggling by comparison. Thankfully, those without formal design processes are focused on fixing that issue.

A slim majority of respondents (51%) claim their organization uses the Swagger Editor for documentation and design. Postman is favored by 40%. IDEs are slightly less popular.

There’s an interesting split in design approach for OAS users. The top approaches — design-first and design-plus-code — are each used by 27% of respondents. However, that design-first philosophy is gaining popularity.

API Challenges and Future Growth

Standardization and security are primary concerns for API practitioners. API design must be predictable and repeatable for greater scalability. These APIs existing in a microservices world must also be free from show-stopping vulnerabilities. Accordingly, the largest number of respondents (61%) think that microservices will strongly drive API growth. DevOps follows with 43%.

Because the microservices trend is so new, lack of experience and skills are still problematic. The approach is still maturing and gaining steam. Thirty-five percent of organizations who haven’t made the switch have comfortability with (or feel handcuffed by) their existing infrastructure.

Thankfully, 2021 is a year of optimism, according to SmartBear. Those who work with APIs have a positive outlook on their organizations and their relationships with such technologies. Companies are moving in the right direction — which is wonderful news for both providers and consumers.