To put enterprise IT in a position to lead (not follow!) a company’s digital transformation and future proof business strategies requires two main things: determining the reason you need an API integration strategy, and then implementing that API integration strategy.
“APIs are critical for digital transformation because they are central to software as the backbone of modern business,” Forrester analyst Randy Heffner noted earlier this year. “Many application development and delivery (AD&D) pros mistakenly think of APIs only as a technical strategy for application integration and mobile apps. But APIs enable new business strategies, rapid business change, broad ecosystem connectivity, and world-class customer engagement.”
Of course, implementing a strategy is far easier said than done. Determining why an API strategy is necessary is much more straightforward, especially in today’s world of endless cloud apps, on-the-go connectivity and departmental best-of-breed stacks. But, getting such a strategy in place can be perilous.
So, to help you implement an API integration strategy, we put together this handy guide outlining all the steps you need to take. Of course, your business is unique so the exact steps, metrics, and people involved will depend on what your business goals are, who the stakeholders at your organization are, and when you want to execute on your transformational strategy—but generally, we’ve seen the most successful organizations cover the following steps:
Step 1: Establish goals and benchmarks
This is a highly critical step, but many organizations still do not devote enough time to it. This is especially true when it comes to APIs, which are too often seen as an enabler of technology as opposed to a core business strategy.
GSMA’s Manfred Bortenschlage recommended ensuring that these three questions are sufficiently answered at this stage: Where are we now, where do we want to be and how do we get there?
The goal here is to have a firm idea of what you want to accomplish through an API integration strategy and how to measure that success. Establishing a roadmap and key performance indicators (KPIs) allows those in charge of the rollout to stay on track and accurately determine if they are making good progress or not.
Example KPIs to measure before and after implementing the strategy:
- Development time
- Time to market
- CAPEX and operating costs
- Customer satisfaction and churn rates
- Employee productivity and application adoption
- ROI on existing systems
Step 2: Develop a thorough understanding of IT environments now
Before an API strategy is ever created, it is extremely helpful to determine what is in place at present. How many software licenses are active? What tools does every department use, and how frequently are they leveraged? How are connections between these applications and systems established now (or, are they not connected at all?), and are APIs in use in any instance? How have IT environments evolved in the past year?
Taking a thorough inventory at the very beginning can be extreme informative. Depending on what is revealed in this audit can make a big difference in terms of the type of API integration strategy needed later on.
Step 3: Determine what needs to be connected through APIs and how
Once a thorough inventory has been established, teams should figure out what specifically needs to be connected through APIs. In many ways, this step highlights the specific tactics and tasks needed to make the overarching strategy a reality.
Beyond just determining what needs to be linked and in what manner, those in charge of the strategy will want to create API value chains, as well. Essentially, this refers to API connectivity and usage from database to end user. This step is about what needs to happen to make an API a reality and who is in charge of what specific piece of the puzzle.
This time can also be useful for determining how new APIs will be created and deployed when necessary. Depending on scope and API use cases, organizations may find it beneficial to adopt an API creation platform that allows them to create their own APIs as needed.
Step 4: Make sure everyone knows why the API integration is important, and what is gained from it
Invariably, any strategy will encounter headwind, no matter how thoughtful or necessary it may be. Every organization has its fair share of naysayers who dislike change in any form. Similar resistance should be expected.
But, these contrary voices should not be avoided. Rather, they should be embraced. Toward the beginning of the effort, take the time to explain why an API integration strategy will be beneficial and how all departments—including IT—will be better off with one in place. Getting buy-in from everyone can sometimes extend timelines considerably, but it helps ensure that it rolls out more smoothly and with fewer glitches.
At this stage, it can often be helpful to employ the services of an API evangelist. Just as there will be naysayers, there will also be individuals and teams that will be very passionate about the new strategy and vocal about its benefits. By tapping these evangelists to help spread the word, skeptics are more likely to see the positives of the new strategy as opposed to just dwelling on the perceived downsides.
Step 5: Conduct a trial run of the new strategy
Once the strategy has been thoroughly established, then comes the time to see how it works in the real world. Trialing the new strategy with just a specific department or team, or within a small subset of the IT ecosystem, enables you to see if the strategy works as intended or if additional tweaks may be necessary. No rollout goes 100 percent smoothly, and a trial run ensures that initial hiccups do not cause organization-wide headaches. Think of this as an internal proof of concept (POC) where your initial learnings will go a long way to making your larger initiative a success. It is also important to ensure this POC phase is clearly communicated with all stakeholders and players in Step 4, including defined expectations of what will—and will not, be accomplished during this trial run. You don’t want to increase your headwinds because the results were misaligned with expectations.
As part of the trial period, it is also important to establish protocols for API oversight, security and maintenance. A good API strategy is not something that can be established once and then forgotten about forever, even assuming the rollout goes without a hitch. Not only will the APIs need to be overseen and monitored to ensure proper usage, but also the connections may need routine maintenance over time to remain highly functional. Having an API integration platform can help handle and automate many maintenance and oversight tasks.
Once the trial is complete, now comes the day of reckoning. By this stage, the strategy should be firmly established and any bugs identified and addressed.
Step 6: Determine how new APIs are to be introduced
Imagine if you first implemented your API integration strategy in 2002. Cloud would have likely been an afterthought, mobile would not be in the picture, and AI and the IoT were more science fiction than enterprise reality. A lot has changed in the last 15 years, and enterprise IT will continue to evolve significantly in the future. A good API integration strategy should have future-proofed protocols spelling out how new technology and solutions will be brought into the fold.
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