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Brenton House
Brenton House

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What is API First Strategy?

Understanding API First Strategy and benefits of API-led Integration!

What is an API First Strategy?


API First is more than building an API for every product you have. API First is a strategic and tactical methodology for how you view your products and your business and about adopting a mindset where your products are capabilities that you can deliver. API First focuses on the business value of APIs and what they deliver.

An API First and API-led Integration Strategy is essential to every organization. The companies that are adopting an API First Strategy are the ones that are gaining ground the quickest in the growing API Economy. API First allows you to view your business as a set of API Products that work together to provide the features, data, and capabilities that your organization's products produce.

APIs are what enable businesses to engage with consumers in the digital world and are how your products are going to be judged in the API Economy.

How fast are things moving in the API Economy? Let's take a look.

What happens in a minute?

A lot can happen in a minute.

In a single minute:

UPS will deliver 11,319 packages

Apple will make a little over $70k dollars

In a single minute, over $3 million dollars will be donated to charities around the world.

In the next 60 seconds, over 700K telephone calls will be made.

60 seconds is not a lot of time but it is enough time for a lot to happen.

A lot can also happen in a digital minute

In fact, according to the 2021 results compiled by Domo, a lot DOES happen in a digital minute.

These are some pretty big numbers.

For instance, in the next 60 seconds:

  • People watch 694K hours of videos on YouTube
  • Twitter users post 575k tweets
  • Slack users send 148k messages
  • Users stream 452k hours of video on Netflix
  • Google conducts 5.7M searches
  • 12M people send an iMessage
  • 6M people shop online
  • Users send 2M SnapChats
  • People watch 167M videos on TikTok

The list goes on and on but there is one thing in common.

All of these services (and more!) are powered by APIs.

Why APIs?


Whether or not you are creating your own APIs you are consuming and using APIs. Everything runs on APIs.

APIs enable the Digital Ecosystem

So instead of asking Why APIs? a better question might be Why API Management and Governance?

API Management and governance have become a crucial part of the API Economy and the strategy and priories of businesses and enterprises around the world.

But let's take a look at the world without them.

In a world without API Governance, we have:

  • No Central Governance over Design and Development

The design for an API and integrations with other systems can have a huge impact on the direction and success of an API program.

  • No Full Lifecycle API Management

Full Lifecycle API Management covers everything from design and development of an API all the way through to retirement of an API.

  • No API Policy Enforcement

API Policies cover and enforce security and so much more

  • No Monetization of APIs

API Monetization is is not just referring to APIs that you sell or license. This is also talking about using APIs to leverage the business value of your other digital and physical products and services. It could also be controlling access or rate limiting APIs in order to be more secure or to protect resources from expensive traffic hits.

  • No Visibility over API Usage

How are APIs being used? (This goes for Public APIs / Internal APIs / Partner APIs / 3rd Party APIs)

  • Many Challenges for API Reuse

  • What APIs do we have?

  • What 3rd Party APIs are we using?

  • *Controlling access to APIs that are reused *

  • What about versioning? What version of an API is being reused?

  • The same goes for updates? Will APIs that are being reused be updated or patched when the original is updated?

What it looks like with an API Digital Ecosystem that is properly managed


  • Portfolio Consolidation of existing and overlapping services
  • Rapid integration API catalog with existing technology
  • Visibility to enable governing and managing full API lifecycle and API reuse
  • Scalable and flexible integration of new microservices components
  • Mitigating risks by enabling future modernization through APIs

To do this you have to have a solid plan that includes these important goals:

Creating an API-led Integration Strategy


APIs and Integrations are at the heart of Digital Transformation and an API-led integration strategy can ensure that you are equipped to succeed. A clear API strategy will allow you to transform your data and processes into digital capabilities that add value to your organization.

Securing Executive Backing


One of the key concepts behind a successful API Strategy is having executive backing. Identifying who all the stakeholders will be (both internal and external) is an important first step. It is important for everyone to realize their role, from executives, management, IT, Marketing, and Accounting... Everyone is a player in this game. Everyone needs to be invited to take ownership of the adoption, use of, and support of the API Program and its role in the Digital Transformation journey of your organization.

With stakeholders identified, executive backing and participation can remove a lot of possible friction points that might exist when making changes in an organization to support the adoption of an API program and strategy.

This is a critical step.

An API program and strategy needs to be executive-driven. Without good leadership and sufficient resources, API programs can become weak and fail.

Defining the Goals of your API Program


What are the goals and objectives of your API program? What do you see being accomplished through the successful implementation of your API Strategy?

Some common outcomes and goals that organizations might target include:

  • Securely managing access to data for customers, partners, and employees.
  • Open more opportunities for integrations with and from third parties.
  • Remove friction by making data more accessible through self-service channels.
  • Increase revenue by leveraging APIs and integrations with other products and services.
  • Empowering customers and employees through digital workflows that were not available before

Identifying Target Audiences


It doesn't matter if this is a public, a partner, or an internal API. It is important to be able to identify who the target audiences and users of your API program are going to be. In fact, according to a recent developer survey, 75% of developers reported working on internal APIs.

The target audience for a particular API program might be employees but it is important to remember that they are still your end-users and ultimately, the success or failure of your API program is going to have a lot to do with them. Don't take for granted that employees are going to love your internal API just because they work for your organization. Make the API developer experience a priority with a great developer portal and documentation.

Once you have identified your target audience, work with small groups of early adopters across your community. Find your API champions and leverage their desire and passion to use your APIs and adopt the API program to your advantage. Get feedback early and often throughout the program on many areas including:

  • The design and user experience
  • The terminology used in the APIs and documentation
  • Opportunities for improvement

Listen and be responsive to the concerns of your user base and let them know they have a voice. This will do wonders for the future adoption of your API Program and give the users a sense of ownership that you can leverage to organically grow your program.

Managing your APIs as Products


If your API is a product:

  • It will be designed with the customer in mind
  • It will be marketed to target customers
  • It will have a great user experience
  • You will make sure it works to build trust
  • It will have a great support community


Aligning Organization around Digital Strategy and Experience

As mentioned earlier, the participation and support of Executives can make a dramatic difference in the success of any Digital Strategy. There are often many adjustments that will need to be made to teams, resources, products, and marketing, to align around changes to the entire digital experience and an API-centric product focus. Executive stakeholders must be actively supportive of the teams the necessary financial and resource investments for the duration of the journey.

Some of the things that can be done to make the adoption of an API Program smoother are to:

  • Clearly articulate the vision and across organization
  • Be transparent with any necessary changes that are planned
  • Focus on organizational value gained by a successfully implemented program
  • Make sure everyone understands the value that they bring to the program
  • Encourage innovation and capture new ideas that can benefit adoption

It will probably be necessary to organizationally align teams by service. Some of the new roles you might see in the organization include

  • API Product Manager
  • API Developers/Architects
  • API Security Specialists

Securing your APIs


The importance of API Security and Cybersecurity goes far beyond your APIs themselves. As your API program grows, you will want to be sure that you have a comprehensive security strategy in-place. Your cybersecurity strategy should not be static but will live and grow with your organization, your APIs, and your digital strategy.

API Security starts with your API Gateway, making sure that it is properly configured and that you are taking advantage of all the security features in the product. You will also want to make sure your API Gateway can easily integrate with any other security products and applications you have in place with your API Management system.

Treat every API like it is a public API. Even if there are no plans to make it a public API, the security measures that you put in place need to be solid and secure in order to protect your applications and APIs. This will help to build trust with your employees and end-users while providing security and privacy for them AND their data.

About Brenton House

Brenton House is Vice President of Digital Evangelism at Software AG. As an API and Digital Transformation Evangelist and Strategist, he has connected enterprises with API solutions and microservices, to help drive innovation and overall business growth for many organizations.

In his 25+ years of experience, he has worked across many industries including broadcasting, advertising, retail, financial services, supply chain, transportation, technology, and publishing -- gaining a breadth of knowledge on all things APIs and Integrations. His diverse experience set and unique creative skill sets have enabled him to equip organizations in creating captivating and innovative products that delight users.

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