The Why and How of an Enterprise API Strategy..

We discussed the emergence of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as a key business capability in Digital Platforms @ http://www.vamsitalkstech.com/?p=3834. We also saw how APIs can serve as a business interaction driven integration layer. APIs provide a layer that serves to connect backend business services across Digital applications across multiple channels. In this second post we will discuss the foundational business, technology, integration & governance capabilities that any Enterprise API Platform must support. The next and final post will discuss an API centric deployment architecture for a medium to large enterprise.

What is your API vision?

The first post in this series (http://www.vamsitalkstech.com/?p=3834) covered the need for industry players to treat APIs as a way of reinventing the many aspects of their business and their consumers.  From a high level standpoint, this can be done in one of three ways –

  1. Inculcating Digital Innovation both inside & inside out. Extending the boundaries of a large global or national enterprise or outside in, by enabling partners to build innovative applications.
  2. Exposing Data Assets and combining them with advanced analytics to enable customers to consume enterprise business services across the globe.
  3. Taking a Platform first approach to building new applications and enabling API nativity in such greenfield development.

Not every Borders Bookstores like company can turn into an Amazon but the ability to create new lines of revenue implies closer integration with business partners. The creation of APIs enables this integration as we saw in the previous post but it is really the treatment of APIs as an enterprise enabler that ensure the scalability of innovation. Hence the need for an enterprise API strategy which senior executives need to be able to devise based on both from a tactical standpoint as well as keeping the strategic vision in mind.

As with all things in digital technology, API Management is founded on strong business use cases. So let us begin by examining a smattering of these.

Industrial Use Cases for API Management Platforms..

Let us first discuss the major business use cases for APIs in a business enterprise.

  1. The simplest use case for any API implementation is to provide Information Retrieval. This includes such use cases for a Free API (which typically accesses non private information) to a Paid API (which securely accesses business sensitive data stored in Book of Record Transaction (BORT) systems). E.g. Patient Medical Records, Supply Chain data, Bank Customer Account Information, Insurance Policies etc.
  2. Other complementary use cases include supporting exposing functionality in Internal applications (that typically perform Document & File Management) across a range of business scenarios – typically via a Private API
  3. Across Partner & Supplier Applications, support the invocation of business logic that typically performs a business process, using an internal or trusted partner API.
  4. Support for Mobile applications and web front ends for applications ranging from field employee enablement to online payments etc using consumer facing public APIs
  5. The most complex use case is support for Data Monetization using advanced analytics. The last post discussed how APIs need to help monetize business assets, this implies an ability to provide complex analytic support for select APIs that extend brands by connecting to a range of backend sources.

The technology and platform requirements for an API strategy will cascade from these use cases – all of which should fairly resonate across several industry verticals.

Business Requirements for API Strategy..

The goal of an enterprise API strategy should be to support the creation of a centralized API platform which appeals to various audiences – Customers, Internal & External Developers, Lines of business and Operations teams.

There are ten distinct business challenges that an enterprise API strategy needs to account for.

  1. First and foremost, an API strategy needs to support the ability of existing business systems to expose their business assets for consumption in Digital scenarios. This implies not just supporting a cloud native/micro-service model of application development but also a range of legacy systems such as RDBMS’s, ERP, CRM systems etc. The ability to front these systems with RESTful APIs, at a minimum, will ensure that these can participate in a digital business process without a lot of upfront rewriting.  Adapters that can provide deep integration with these sources that allow for efficient API performance using techniques such as query optimization, pagination, support for business policies etc. The API platform also needs to support easy ways of composing APIs and orchestrating them across backend applications which are not always cloud native. The capability of API Composition where backend APIs are orchestrated to perform a higher business function is highly desirable.
  2. The API Management Platform needs to support a High Performance Architecture capable of supporting high volumes of client applications – at a high end potentially millions of API calls per minute.
  3. The Platform needs to provide five nine’s of Infrastructure and Application reliability. Lost API messages mean missed revenue – it is as simple as that. Thus, API’s need to be highly available and support a high degree of redundancy.
  4. APIs increase the attack surface of an enterprise. Accordingly, the strategy needs to account for the provision of bulletproof Security against a range of threat vectors – malicious API client applications, Malware, Denial of Service (DOS) attacks etc. Also ensuring strong Identity Management capabilities for client applications across complex backend services
  5. The ability to Monitor the APIs for performance, throttling etc to guarantee SLA (Support Level Agreements). It is also important to provide the ability to generate granular business & IT reporting on API usage across a range of metrics etc.
  6. As discussed in the last blog @ http://www.vamsitalkstech.com/?p=3834, an API ecosystem provides support for multiple players – customers, partners, employees etc. Accordingly needs to support multiple versions of underlying APIs that expose different views of business assets. This is key so that consumers can obtain value around the capabilities that are aligned with their interests.
  7. An ability to support Data Monetization via Rich Analytics than has been possible before that provide a great degree of context. This ability to reason around context is what provides an ability to design new business models which cannot be currently imagined due to lack of agility in the data and analytics space.This integration helps these systems leverage the digital intelligence and insights across (potentially) millions of devices across complex areas of operation.
  8. Application developers access to APIs with a view to including them in their business applications. Accordingly, an API Management strategy should provide strong capabilities for Developers via a Portal. The Portal helps them right from on-boarding, help around exploring organization backend capabilities, API documentation, Quickstart Guides, Online videos, API Testing capabilities, API version history, search & discovery tools for API discovery etc.It should be noted that multiple developer portal views must be supported – both for internal and external communities of developers. Internal developers will want to do a range of tasks that create support lines of business, business automation tasks, supporting workforce related IT access applications etc. They will create, package and upload APIs to the portal. External API developers range from Partners to Customer communities. They typically access these APIs, subscribe to them and run a range of dev-test tasks using the Portal.
  9. Supporting Governance across potentially hundreds of API definitions. The topic of Governance is the most critical area and tools need to help right from the definition of business case to assigning actors (who may already be defined in business directories) to managing deployment schedules to change management etc. Business policies need to be supported to enable business and IT stakeholders to retire APIs.
  10. Finally, an API strategy cannot be divorced from the Industry Vertical that the enterprise operates in. This implies that starter set APIs, templates, SDKs etc be provided as modules for verticals like Financial Services, Insurance, Telecom, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Connected Cars etc.

Conclusion..

APIs are a product line and should be treated as such which implies an ability to manage them across their lifecycle.  Developers create API client applications, the corporation makes these API definitions available for communities of developers consume in their applications. Sys admins secure, deploy & manage these APIs.

The end goal of an API strategy is to ensure that the process of creating, securing, orchestrating & monitoring these API interfaces is intuitive, consistent and scalable across a large organization. We will round off this three part series on APIs by define a technical deployment architecture in the next & final post.

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