Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) provide the means for accessing functionalities of various IT platforms, including, operating systems, applications, on-line services, distributed systems and more. For over twenty years, APIs have not only been a valuable tool for developers, but also the primary way in which software engineers perceive the functionality of an IT system. In recent years, APIs have also been used for integrating and using digital assets in sophisticated IT systems. In particular, enterprises are structuring their business functionalities in the form of APIs, in order to allow other systems, either within or outside the enterprise, to use these functionalities.
The use of APIs for making business functionalities available to other systems emerged as a result of the booming cloud-based, internet-connected, systems (i.e. the internet-of-services), which enable the creation of complex systems- a collection of functionalities of different internet platforms, such as e-commerce platforms, enterprise portals, social media platforms and more. As a result, APIs deliver a host of technological and business benefits. Therefore, enterprises must be able to understand these benefits, in order to create and manage their APIs in an appropriate way.
The Technical Side: Benefits for Developers
During the past few years the importance of APIs for developers has been increasing, as a result of their key role in agile software development and automation. Overall, APIs present the following main benefits for developers:
- Learn Once Use Multiple Times: The use of APIs is associated with a learning curve. However, once a developer learns an API, he/she is able to use it for the development of multiple applications. Even when an API changes, its changes tend to be marginal or incremental, which allows developers to adapt with minimum time and effort.
- APIs are a Foundation for Automation: APIs boost automation across the whole software development lifecycle, including development, testing and deployment processes. Well-defined APIs enable the automation of these processes, which reduces time and increases productivity. Note also that APIs are very handy for specifying and developing simulators and mock-ups during early development stages. As soon as a system uses the right API, it is possible to directly replace a mock-up or a simulator with the real-system once the latter becomes available.
- Richer Functionalities and Reuse: With APIs, developers can leverage and reuse advanced functionalities, including technical functionalities such as logging and debugging, as well as business ones such as algorithms for billing, invoicing, credit card authorization, recommendations and more. Specifically, APIs enable developers to access third-party libraries and system-level features, including a very wide range of cloud accessible intelligence functionalities.
- Easier Adaptation and Evolution: In most cases APIs represent a contract between the developer and a service provider which also hides the actual system implementation. Hence, developers can automatically leverage service providers’ updates, without the need to update their own programs. However note that the developers need to be prepared for updates to service providers APIs, through isolating API calls in separate modules that can be individually updated without any essential impact on other modules.
- Multichannel data programming and distribution: In an era where content is distributed across multiple channels and sources (e.g., social networks), APIs provide the means for collecting content from different producers and routing it across different consumer platforms. Furthermore, APIs allow access to all available data as and when it becomes available. Specifically, through APIs, the generated content can be published automatically in order to become instantly available to multiple consumers through different channels.
The Business Side: Enterprise Benefits
The benefits of APIs are not limited to software developers and programmers. Rather, APIs are a source of a range of other business benefits, including:
- Ecosystem building: Most successful digital products and services (including for example Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Amazon, Apple iPhone and others) provide entire digital ecosystems as APIs, enabling stakeholders such as customers, partners and employees to collaborate. Moreover, ecosystems provide the means for building new capabilities (such as Facebook apps). APIs play a foundational role for these ecosystems, as they provide the means for using and extending the capabilities of the digital platforms.
- Enabler for new digital assets and open innovation: APIs enable the composition of new digital assets based on the capabilities of existing ones. Developers, integrators and innovators can use different APIs in order to create novel services that meet evolving business requirements. As a result, APIs contribute to business agility and innovation.
- Taking advantage of legacy systems: Enterprises are always keen on protecting their existing investments in IT and business services. Entire service provision paradigms (such as Service Oriented Architectures (SOA)) are destined to support reuse of legacy IT platforms. APIs provide the means for exposing the capabilities of legacy systems as business services, which enables enterprises to take advantage of their existing infrastructures.
- Improve your customer’s user experience: Customers are increasingly accessing business services using mobile devices and social channels. APIs facilitate enterprises to make their services available on mobile and social platforms, which makes it easier for their customers to access these services using their preferred channel and modality. This is a foundation for an improved user experience.
- Enhanced Security and Brand Protection: Properly designed business APIs can contribute to protecting an enterprise from both internal and external security threats, as APIs are used by both internal and external users. To this end, APIs should become associated with the needed authentication, authorization and encryption mechanisms, including support for relevant security standards.
API Management Solutions
The above-listed reasons illustrate the importance of effective API management. Fortunately, there is already a host of API management platforms, which let you organize, structure and secure access to your APIs. Typical elements and functionalities of these platforms include:
- A portal-like infrastructure, which serves as a single entry point for accessing documentation and functionalities of the APIs.
- API publishing functionalities, including the ability to publish and un-publish certain API interfaces and end-points.
- Management and integration of security policies, which specifies the who and when of an API integration or use.
- Third-party channels and product integration, which lets businesses control integration with other platforms and products such as social media platforms.
- API orchestration functionalities, which provide utilities for composing applications and new APIs based on existing ones.
- Consumer information management and analytics, which provide insights on the users that consume the APIs, including information such as usage patterns, devices’ and terminals’ types, geographical information about the consumers’ location and more.
A list of prominent API management products includes the Akana Platform by Akana, Apigee Edge by Apigee, IBM API Connect by IBM, WSO2 API Manager by WSO2, Azure API Management by Microsoft, TIBCO Mashery Enterprise by TIBCO Software and more.
The emergence of many API management products is yet another factor that indicates the importance of API management functionalities and their rising penetration within enterprises (e.g., according to a recent developers’ survey by Forrester, 48% of surveyed enterprises use already APIs). Therefore, it’s probably time, you reflect on our reasons for adopting an API management solution in order to identify and act on the ones that are most applicable to your business.