In its simplest form, an API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of programming instructions that allows one application or system to interact with another. The term used to be reserved for technologists that sat in a back room day and night, with a bottle of Visine and Mountain Dew, until the final code release. But that mantra has changed. APIs can now take effect far before and long after their technical implementation. In order to reap this benefit, it’s important to have a carefully formulated and executed API strategy.
Stage 1: Define business objectives
The value your API is to provide is the foundation of your API strategy. But at the core of the strategy is your business. The first step, therefore, is making sure you have your business objectives defined. What is my product? Who is my audience? Why are they using my product? These are basic, but key questions, and having clearly defined business objectives will point you to how and where your API is to add value.
Stage 2: Define value
Value takes on several different meanings. Sometimes the API is the product. Sometimes, it exposes the product. And other times, it powers the product. A Public API may allow customers to read and transact directly with your data. A Private API may allow developers to build robust Web and Mobile Applications as well as stitch together disparate systems within your enterprise. A Partner API may allow your proprietary system to more easily interact with 3rd party platforms. Whatever form your API takes, it should be the key building block for a modern technology ecosystem enabling your particular business objectives.
Stage 3: Define the strategy
With your business objectives and their value determined, you can now more specifically hone your strategy. Some questions to guide you in this process include:
Who are the consumers of the API?
Which assets (functions/data) do I want to make available?
What are the security requirements surrounding those assets?
Which applications will leverage the API?
Which protocols and data exchange formats should my API support?
Do I need to wrap or interact with Legacy components?
How do I ensure proper adoption among my developer community?
Stage 4: Execute
Now comes the fun part. Hopefully you have some time to start designing and developing your API before the consuming application coding kicks into high gear. Pragmatic REST over HTTP(S) is a must-have these days. JSON has become the preferred data exchange format. Other standards and best practices, such as OAuth for security, have emerged. API Design toolkits are constantly maturing. It’s a great time to be an API designer and developer.
API’s are far from a new concept. However, they have evolved from a backroom technology concept to a front and center essential of business and technology alike. And with properly formed and executed strategies, they are becoming critical building blocks for modern technology architecture, and drivers of innovation and collaboration across industries.
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