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What is involved in developing an API Integration Strategy?

Establishing an API integration strategy is a key milestone in your digital transformation journey and requires you to take a step back and revisit your entire business and IT landscape.

An API integration journey touches all parts of your enterprise and is not merely a technical plumbing problem. As with any initiative of such scale and impact, a solid strategy can set you up for long term success and ensure that your entire business pulls in the same direction as you transform yourself into an API-powered real-time enterprise. In this post, we will talk about some of the key aspects that you must define and take stock of in order to establish a successful API integration strategy and roadmap.

Start with your business objectives

This may sound like a cliché but it is critical that you start this journey with some meaningful and measurable business objectives that you want to reach within the next few years. Unlike many other streams of technology, the alignment of API integration with business is very direct, because your APIs, at the end of the day, are business products.

Exercises such as Impact Mapping can help you define clear measurable impacts that you want to create within your business and drilling down further from here, you can start to analyse what kind of information you might want to offer on a self-service basis to current and future consumers, which then become potential API candidates.

This should give you a fairly decent portfolio of business initiatives that can benefit immensely if they are API enabled.

Establish the importance of an API integration strategy

Having arrived at the business initiatives and their measurable success criteria, you should make sure that you are bringing the relevant parts of business along the journey since an API journey might initially look to be more effort-intensive than easier technical alternatives, though it yields higher value in the long run.

Hence, talk to the key lines of business stakeholders and establish the value of adopting a strategic API integration approach in the business areas that you have identified. This will ensure that there is organisational backing both in terms of resourcing and funding as you embark on this journey.

Revisit and reshape your team structures

To execute a successful API integration strategy, your team structures might also need to be reshaped. Establishing cross-functional product teams who can own sets of APIs is usually the way to go. In a layered API strategy, these teams are usually also segregated further based on their application ownership. Let us look at one possible approach now.

The heavyweight systems of record such as ERP, mainframes are usually owned by central IT and hence system APIs are put in charge of teams who have both subject matter expertise within the end systems as well as know the nuts and bolts of designing good reusable APIs.

Process or Business APIs are more aligned towards lines of business and these are modelled around the key business processes that you want to automate. Teams who own such APIs usually have strong domain expertise in the form of business analysts and functional experts as well as the technical API developers who can define and implement these business APIs while leveraging the lower-level system APIs built by central IT teams.

Finally, experience APIs are more aligned towards end-user facing applications such as mobile apps and web portals. These kinds of APIs are usually best owned by teams who own these end-user applications. These teams can have good application developers and user experience experts as well as API developers who can interact with lower-level business and system APIs in order to create a tailor-made experience API layer to serve the frontend apps.

This is just an example but as you can already see, team structures should be designed carefully in order to have proper API evolution and ongoing governance and maintenance. APIs are products and without constant care and improvement, any API integration strategy cannot yield the long-term benefits that it claims to provide.

Make a lifecycle check of your current system landscape

You have your key business initiatives lined up, you have convinced your business stakeholders to invest in an API integration roadmap and you have revisited your team structures to make them more product-centric. Now comes another crucial step in devising your API strategy, to focus on unlocking only those systems which you are going to retain for the long term.

You build APIs to reap long-term benefits, not to solve current-day tactical problems, so when you are looking at especially your system APIs, you need to carefully consider which systems you will retain as part of your long term IT strategy so that you don’t end up creating short-lived integrations. It is in fact an anti-pattern to API enable systems that are you going to phase out soon.

One model that you can use is to chalk up a two-dimensional matrix with your business domains and processes in one dimension and the systems you plan to retain in another. Start ticking off the cells where you see the systems playing a role in fulfilling the identified business processes. This simple exercise will help you narrow down the business scenarios and systems that you want to immediately bring under the umbrella of API integration.

Establish robust platform and application foundations

Needless to say, a good API integration strategy demands a comprehensive and robust API management and integration platform that can be used to conceive, implement and govern all your APIs.

You should not try to do everything in-house from scratch without a proper platform unifying your API landscape as things will start to quickly get out of hand the minute you start scaling your API integrations. Having a single platform to manage the entire lifecycle of your APIs is non-negotiable and allows you to put in place the right foundation to start developing your APIs and their integrations.

When you put in place your API integration platform, do also invest in authoring proven standards, patterns and best practices so that you can instil consistency into all your APIs. Concerns such as naming, logging, security, auditing, monitoring, error handling, versioning, release management have to be addressed right at the outset so that your diverse ecosystem of API developers can focus on the thing that they know how to do best, build your API integrations, without stumbling over these cross-cutting concerns and reinventing the wheel.

With a robust platform and application foundations in place, you are setting up the stage to accelerate your API integration journey, with you having full control of its destiny and prepared to handle most challenges that come along the way.

Complete the end to end cycle for a significant use case

You are now all set to test out your API integration strategy. You may hear the use of terms such as a proof-of-concept, pilot and prototype at this stage. We would not want you to think of this as any of those because you need to be able to really demonstrate the value of your strategy to all of your stakeholders and a mere prototype does not cut it.

You should pick a significant business use case out of your identified initiatives and use that as the first project to see your strategy coming to life. Run it as a proper project, assign the right team structures, use your platform and application foundations and take it all the way to production. Once there, measure your API metrics over a period of time and make sure that they are meeting both your technical and business KPIs.

Build out your API integration roadmap and execution plan

You have demonstrated the credibility of your API integration strategy by taking a real use case to production. Now you can focus on building out the rest of your API integration roadmap and putting it into a proper execution plan which you can deliver over the next few years.

As the number of your API integrations grows, you would have naturally built a comprehensive API catalogue as part of it. This will help you realise many of your future initiatives with much less effort as you can start tapping into this rich API ecosystem, harness information quickly and reshape it to meet the demands of your real-time enterprise.

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We know this is quite abstract and has only scratched the surface of what goes into building out a proper API integration strategy. You may feel that this is daunting or could be vague about how these steps should be sequenced, what can happen in parallel, are all these steps equally important and so on.

We have got you covered. Every enterprise is different and while we can talk about some blanket rules for laying out an API integration strategy, this may always need to be tailor-made to suit your specific needs. Please reach out to us and we are happy to help you along the way and be successful in your API integration journey.

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