Lately, I’ve been working with APIs quite a lot (from social network to other platform APIs) and been doing some related reading in different topics. I thought it would be useful to reflect on and re-emphasize some keys I believe are vital to a successful API today. These keys become even more important in the world where APIs are turning into backbones of emerging technologies.
Nowadays, it is not surprising at all seeing business folks talking about APIs, whereas in the near past API was more a term used in developers’ realm. According to the report by SmartBear on the state of API, more and more organizations are investing in internal API development and consumption of public-facing APIs. APIs have become essential to businesses in today’s transformative age. It has been key enabler in digital transformation in organizations.
As McKinsey rightfully states, “as the connective tissue linking ecosystems of technologies and organizations, APIs allow businesses to monetize data, forge profitable partnerships, and open new pathways for innovation and growth.” Other than cross-organizational integrations, increased adoption of microservices architecture, Cloud and Internet of Things are also driving API adoption significantly.
APIs have never been so important to businesses as it is today. Before implementing an API, it’s important to carefully consider these keys which are crucial to a successful API strategy and implementation.
Document, Document, Document!
Do you (as a developer, tech lead, or business folk) remember your first impression when looking at an API with a strong documentation? A poor documentation is similar to losing in presentation despite enormous business value you may in reality offer.
Documentation has always been a daunting task no matter what you do, and as a result most organizations seem to de-prioritize it. In the API ecosystem, a solid documentation that is accurate, detailed, up-to-date, and easy to digest is probably the first important aspect of an API that makes it stand out from the crowd. It increases usability of the API and simplifies its adoption. An upfront investment in API documentation can certainly help API provider organizations to leverage it as a competitive advantage.
Design-First your API
You have probably heard about OpenAPI. And if you are in API industry, the chances are that you have even used it across your projects. According to the report by SmartBear, growing number of development teams are using this specification for a “design-first” approach toward API development.
This article is not about pros and cons of code-first and design-first approaches. Contrary to the code-first, design-first approach takes designing of an API contract first. Good Developers Experience (DX) matters, if your API strategy involves high API adoption and user retention integrating with your API. The primary reason to choose the Design First approach is when your API’s target audience are external users. Good design plays a key role in determining customer satisfaction. Try to spot the issues in the design, before you write any code. It makes the process of API development more efficient and streamlines it which is better than doing so after the implementation is already in place.
If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Improve It.
API monitoring should certainly be among the top priority items when implementing API. It is key in tracking the effectiveness of your API strategy diligently and holistically. An effective monitoring provides a lot of insights into a combination of business success metrics such as revenue and consumption vs. operational metrics such as uptime. Nobody wants failing APIs especially API providers which drag their revenue and reputation down with them.
Standardization cannot be stressed enough.
For large organizations, who have an existing portfolio of APIs, standardization has always been the biggest challenge. Being able to develop APIs at scale which is key to success in the long-run, requires standards to develop and maintain them. There are many tools available to help achieving API standardization on an organization level. As an example, OpenAPI specification certainly comes as useful to standardize APIs across an organization by complying with its API style guides.
It is clear that organizations will keep on investing in APIs more heavily in the coming years. Baking these keys into every API development will help in getting thriving and engaged developer community. Of course, successful API development is not only limited to these keys. A well-designed web API which follows industry-wide best practices is essential. It is critical to ensure that the web API is implemented to maintain responsiveness under a heavy load, to be scalable to support a highly varying workload, and to guarantee availability for clients that perform business-critical operations.