The API Acceleration Formula: Best Practices for Successful API-Powered Companies
APIs are fast becoming a key component of IT strategies, enabling both internal rewiring of processes and new external interfaces for customers and partners. This breadth is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, API deployment and usage are an extremely high-leverage activity that can bring benefits across much of the organization – a genuine “accelerator”. On the other, API programs can often lead to confused goals, many actors involved in planning, and a lack of focus in execution.
These are exciting times. The promise of APIs is powerful; however, there is also risk of upheaval and cost. How can one proceed and realize the benefits? In our experience there is one key item, which is critical to establishing the right foundation for a successful API as well as a number of other best practices that must be maintained with discipline to achieve API success.
An API-Powered Strategy, Not Just an API Strategy
The most important advice we give to companies embarking on an API program is to emphasize how APIs support the strategy of the organization rather than how the organization can support an API strategy. In other words, remember that APIs are tools, not a means to an end—they must support the company’s overall goals.
In general, APIs are far more powerful when they integrate and help deliver on existing business promises. On the rare occasion that they represent a completely new line of business, should be a very deliberate choice to deliver on – not only on the API – but on the whole business apparatus around it for a new product.
"Delivering on the value of APIs for your organization means re-architecting your ability to deliver business goals"
There are two beneficiaries to keep in mind through the strategic planning process:
1. The value of the API for the API’s consumers
2. The value of the API for the organization
Answers to these questions will vary from organization to organization, based on the environmental context. Clearly defining what the value that the APIs create for these two beneficiaries is paramount.
Examples of “value” for the organisation include increased reach (e.g., for content distribution), increased (brand) awareness, increased innovation, or further direct revenue streams. Examples for API consumers include access to unique data or services, quicker adoption, and shorter time-to-value, leveraging an API provider’s brand strength, or more efficient monetization.
Best Practices for Acceleration
Even with a clear alignment between the API and the organization’s strategy, it is easy to lose track of these objectives when implementing and operating the APIs. Who should be involved? Are the APIs being used? Are they enabling the business as they should?
Based on observations of some of the best API programs out there, including Amazon, APIdaze, Context.IO, eBay, and many of our own customers, we’ve distilled seven key practices that make a huge difference to the outcomes of API programs. Overall, it’s important to keep the whole API lifecycle in mind, not just design and launch.
The seven best practices are:
1. Focus relentlessly on the value of the API: As discussed above, the value to the two main beneficiaries is a key focus that must be continuously re-evaluated.
2. Make the business model clear from the beginning: The API must exist to support the organization’s business model, not the other way around.
3. Design and implement with the user in mind: Three main design goals are imperative: simplicity, flexibility, and ease of adoption.
4. Place API operations at the top of the list: API operations processes must be in place to deliver services according to the expectations of the API beneficiaries.
5. Obsess about developer experience (DX): DX is the sum of all interactions between a developer and an API. If developers have a bad experience, API adoption and usage will suffer.
6. Go beyond marketing 101: Developer marketing has unique qualities. Be clear on what tactics will work best for different user groups.
7. Remember API retirement and change management: Changes happen, and (understandably) they always upset someone. However, they can be managed, planned, and especially communicated.
As API management experts, we recommend iterating on and tracking these seven areas, both for planning your program as a whole and as a guideline for your individual delivery teams. An in-depth exploration of these best practices can be found in our ebook that is available for download from our website, www.3scale.net. The API Owner’s Manual. Best Practices of Successful API Teams.
Delivering on the value of APIs for your organization means re-architecting your ability to deliver business goals. The best practices we outline here help keep individual teams aligned and ensure APIs don’t become another cost center rather than delivering on their great promise.