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In our earlier post Role of APIs we covered the importance of APIs in an increasingly digital world. We covered how APIs enable digital transformation and also some essential use cases especially in the context of COVID-19.
To get the most value from API initiatives organizations have to rethink and evaluate their API strategies. Just implementing an API enabled use case is not enough.
Rethinking API Strategy
In a constantly evolving digital economy, APIs are necessary to continuously enable new services, but the need for digital-first strategies have made APIs more of a priority than ever before. Every organization is confronted by the need to make changes quickly and adapt to new ways of conducting their business. APIs streamline this process of transformation.
An effective API program has to build on an organization’s overarching corporate strategy and contribute to its objectives. In order for organizations to evolve a winning API strategy, the following questions must be addressed:
1. Why should the organization implement APIs?
To embark on an API Strategy, organizations need to think of what impact they want the APIs to have on their business strategy. An API is valuable when it becomes a channel that provides new access to the existing value an organization delivers. An API doesn't need to be a paid product to be valuable.
The value of the API to users is the result of an API call (service request and response), rather than the call itself. As Digital McKinsey says "APIs allow business to monetize data, forge profitable partnerships, and open new pathways for innovation and growth." This "why" clearly needs to be strong enough that the decision to make an investment in APIs is an obvious choice for the organization.
The Benefits of APIs
Accelerated Development: APIs simplify otherwise complex connections, making it easier for developers to react fast to changing needs, and ultimately accelerating the development cycle.
Reusability: API designs can be reused like building blocks, supporting scalability and further expediting the development process.
Automation: APIs enable automation by simplifying communication between applications and services, eliminating the need for manual processes, phone calls, faxes, and time-consuming point-to-point integrations.
Traffic Management: APIs enable traffic management (by standardizing the flow of data so API Management technology can control the flow) so developers do not have to be concerned about overloading the system.
Collaboration: In many cases, internal applications need to connect with external applications or systems. APIs facilitate collaboration with third parties by serving as a simple interface between applications both inside and outside the network that were not originally designed to communicate, supporting partnerships that would otherwise not be possible.
Innovation: Custom integration between applications can be costly and time-consuming to establish and maintain. The low cost and simplicity of APIs fosters experimentation and innovation.
The Need for API Management
An API is not meant to be a stand-alone technology that serves a single purpose. Developers need to embrace APIs as the core of integration, delivering connectivity across the enterprise and beyond. APIs are reusable building blocks that hold the IT environment together, and IT teams need to take a "big picture" perspective and develop a solid API strategy that not only includes API integration but also API management.
API management makes it easier to capitalize on the many benefits of APIs. To utilize APIs more successfully, an organization can use API management, which monitors and enforces policy across the complete API lifecycle. API management drives a new API-centric approach to integration that can solve a myriad of challenges, especially those faced during today's pandemic crisis. With API management, development teams can share, secure, scale, reuse, track, troubleshoot and control APIs on a universal platform that drives consistency, compliance and improved security.
2. What concrete outcomes do we want to achieve with these APIs?
The second question to think about is what outcomes we want to achieve with the API Strategy. This includes what the APIs actually do, and how they impact the larger business strategy.
When deciding what an API should do for your business, examine both internal and external views. The internal view refers to specific and valuable assets that an organization possesses. The more valuable, rare, inimitable, and nonsubstitutable — also often referred to as VRIN assets — the more suitable they are for the "what" of an API. The external view is related to everything outside of an organization, such as market dynamics, trends, competitors, and customer behaviors — all of which are macro-environmental drivers and industry forces. The decision about the "what" is then usually a combination of the two.
3. How do we plan to execute the API program to achieve that?
This question is about implementation and execution. To have a successful execution strategy, the following best practices need to be followed:
1. Focus relentlessly on the value of the API
2. Make the business model clear from the beginning
3. Design and implement with the user in mind
4. Place API operations at the top of the list
5. Obsess about developer experience
6. Go beyond marketing 101
7. Remember API retirement and change management
APIs for Today and the Future: Essential Use Cases
APIs are advantageous in a variety of use cases. In the context of COVID-19, we have identified four major use cases where APIs can help organizations combat the economic disruption.
Due to the current pandemic, tens of thousands of health care providers are physically separated from their customers, changing the way clinical care is delivered. When patients cannot come to the office, certain medical services can be provided remotely.
Video conferencing is only part of the solution because it must be done in the context of clinical records, and because the technology must be approved by insurance providers, and must be encrypted and authenticated enough to meet strict government healthcare regulations.
Consequently, patients need to be provisioned on specially-designed composite applications that include video systems in order to have face time with their healthcare providers. Healthcare providers are rushing to connect to these new systems, and APIs can be a more secure and reliable way to make the necessary connections.
The section above counseled product managers to "focus relentlessly on the value of the API." The value in this use case is pretty clear: providers can not offer care if the APIs don’t deliver the data. But the rush to market must still ensure that the practices around design with the user in mind and obsessing about developer experience are at least as critical as they were before the pandemic; delivering APIs that confuse users or off incomplete data would threaten not only business models but put lives at risk.
Re-tooling the Supply Chain
The emergence of COVID-19 has forced many companies to look at the economy — and their supply chains — in a whole new way. Products with a routine supply chain previously – like toilet paper and medical masks — were or are in such high demand that most consumers cannot find these products on store shelves or order them online. Retailers who do not want to miss the opportunity to serve customers in this great time of need must find ways to re-tool the supply chain to meet the changing demand – and that includes changes to IT, and the resulting need for new connections fast. APIs serve this use case well.
APIs can be used to empower applications to track and share data on orders, units produced, product defects, and much more — all information that is critical for manufacturers to react to supply chain disruption. APIs are also critical to enable team members on the production floor to access data and communicate via handheld devices.
As the world retools to this huge threat, principal 7 about change management becomes even more critical: so many of the factors that are in play right now might be gone and replaced with totally new dynamics next week.
The COVID-19 crisis has significantly changed the way companies communicate, and what they are communicating. Sharing information has become more important than ever before, because healthcare providers, medical research institutions, government agencies, companies and other organizations must share vital coronavirus data with each other, and deliver essential messages to their employees, customers, and even the general public.
However, healthcare organizations continue to publish tens of thousands of studies containing significant volumes of data encoded in models that vary tremendously by taxonomy, semantics, encoding, and sometimes even language. Using common standards will help with the exchange, but even more important is a strategic approach to how stakeholders can understand and share APIs for the benefit of everyone. All of the principles described above apply here, but above all "make the business model clear from the beginning."
The examples above represent just a few examples from organizations using API strategies to not only address the real-time situations they are facing today but that can also serve them well into the future.
Learn more about the seven best practices of effective API programs covered in this E-book: API Owners manual.
About the author
David Codelli is a Product Marketing Manager at Red Hat Software. A 25-year veteran of business integration, Codelli worked on complex systems and applications in health care, financial services, aerospace, and manufacturing before assuming leadership roles in product management and marketing. He has worked with many leading edge companies including Sun Microsystems, Verizon, McKesson, and General Atomics.