Building the Right APIs Is Key to Your Digital Transformation
APIs have the power to drive extraordinary results, but their value is only revealed when they are used. Axway CEO Patrick Donovan explains why organizations should focus on driving API consumption by showcasing their business value to draw the greatest ROI.
- By Patrick Donovan
- May 1, 2023
We live in an unprecedented era of tech growth. IDC forecasts that global spending on digital transformation will reach $2.8 trillion in 2025, more than double what it was in 2020. Although most of these digital transformation projects remained on track through the pandemic, analysts believe investments in the technologies that support them will accelerate this year.
Among the technologies driving this revolution are application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow companies to expose their data as discrete digital assets to be used in the creation of applications by the organization itself or by external developers.
APIs are a powerful tool for unlocking new ways of doing business in the mobile era. However, in their race to publish APIs, organizations can often get mired in the technicalities of building APIs without considering that more is not necessarily better.
Less but Better
Building an API is a good start. But it will not bring any value to your organization if it is never used. To this end, your organization needs to focus on driving consumption of its APIs.
Consumable APIs are:
- Designed and packaged in a manner that clearly demonstrates their business value
- Purposefully and collaboratively built by IT and business teams
- Discoverable, easy to use, and easy to reuse
Dieter Rams, an influential designer of the 20th century, lived by a philosophy of "less but better." He courageously eliminated the nonessentials in his designs (such as the iconic clear plastic-covered record player, the ET66 pocket calculator, or his sleek pocket lighter). Rams believed good design is innovative and makes a product useful and understandable.
We should apply this philosophy to our own race to innovate. Not every organization needs fewer APIs -- although Gartner analysts warn that ungoverned API usage is on the rise -- but many would certainly benefit from better APIs. 
This is no easy feat. To derive the greatest value from an API management platform, don't focus on building more APIs but rather on building the right APIs. Then make sure your APIs are easy to discover, consume, and reuse. Here's how.
Treat APIs as Products
The first potential pitfall in building APIs is a lack of shared vision between IT architects and business teams. APIs are not just a set of technical widgets; they are tools that must be designed to provide business value. In other words, APIs should be a product that solves a pain point.
Successful API development follows a business-led approach, where developers and business teams work collaboratively to identify their customer and design an API that satisfies their need. It also requires a culture shift; your team must recognize and adopt the mindset that the technology must always, ultimately, be in service of the end user.
A product-focused company—as opposed to a project-focused one—develops and releases APIs using a modular approach; their APIs deliver a clear business value, which makes them easier to use and reuse instead of rebuilding similar APIs for a different project.
Package APIs as Curated Business Capabilities
A recent study found that 71% of IT and business decision-makers didn't realize the desired value from their API programs; at the same time, 86% agree that the value of APIs lies in their consumption, not in their existence alone.
Part of driving API consumption is showcasing what those APIs can do. When you treat APIs as products, you understand that it may take more than a single API to offer a specific business capability.
Consider a bakery that sells individual croissants, baguettes, and pastries. It also offers a lunch special: a sandwich with the choice of a dessert pastry. If you have 30 minutes for lunch, do you want to visit a baker, cheesemonger, and butcher to put together your sandwich? A packaged product with a clear purpose is easier to use -- and more cost-efficient for the buyer.
To encourage adoption of your APIs, organize them into logical groupings along with any required documentation and additional assets that may be needed. These groupings make clear what the packaged product does and provide guidance on how to use it.
A Digital Services Marketplace Makes Your APIs Easy to Consume
Investing in unused technology is an expensive proposition for any enterprise. Essential to driving API adoption and consumption is making them easy to find, both internally and externally.
To this end, an API platform with a marketplace component needs to enable the discovery, capture, and management of all APIs across an enterprise.
Much like Amazon's marketplace sells products to mass consumers, an API marketplace is where developers go to consume APIs and other digital services. It exposes and offers technical building blocks in the form of digital products, which developers use to manufacture a new product (application) for the end customer.
An API marketplace allows developers -- internal or external -- to easily discover and subscribe to a company's APIs and build new apps and services. It makes APIs easier to consume by:
- Centralizing and consolidating API management across multiple gateways and repositories (different vendors, on premises or in the cloud) for greater visibility
- Revealing insights into how APIs are being used to better measure their quality and use, and working to improve API design, performance, and overall developer experience
- Making APIs easy to find and consume for both internal and external developers
When envisioning APIs as products, you're shifting your understanding of who the "customer" is -- namely, developers.
The "project" mindset can lead to one team spending the time to design a single-use API that never becomes visible to others. This is especially true for larger enterprises spread across multiple countries or business units.
Treating APIs as products, however, means that even internally, they are exposed in an API marketplace for developers from other teams to reuse. That API can then be exposed externally as well, and even monetized for further ROI.
Ask yourself these questions: Are your APIs easy to find thanks to features such as search, filter, or ratings and reviews? Do your APIs have clear documentation and examples that make them easy to plug and play? Is your approval process automated? Your answers will indicate whether your API products are reaching your target customer.
We know that IT managers are already dealing with rapidly growing API complexity. An API marketplace offers a "less but better" approach; it eliminates the nonessentials by abstracting away the back-end complexity of your APIs and offering clear solutions to a developer's pain point in a digital storefront.
With a vision to drive API consumption, rather than merely building (more) APIs, your technology and business teams can work hand-in-hand to see real, sustainable growth.