Done right, APIs enable rapid connectivity of customers, suppliers and partners across digital channels, unlocking your business's potential for new products, services and engaging digital experiences. But be careful, not all APIs are equal!
If you are starting out on your API-driven journey or looking to refresh your integration architecture with an API-driven approach, it is important to consider what makes for a good API. Here, we share a quick look at the top 10 API Best Practices we’ve learned over the years from delivering hundreds of successful API-driven integration projects.
1. Business Aligned
First and foremost, if you want people to get the most benefit and re-use from your APIs they have to be aligned to what the business actually needs. This means they have to deliver at the right level of granularity and expose the right functionality in the context and terminology that developers can easily understand to simplify consumption and drive reuse.
Rule number 2, if you want people to use your beautiful business-aligned APIs, they have to be able to find them, easily! If your APIs are held solely within the realm of IT, it makes them hard for anyone to find, let alone use them. So get your APIs into an API Catalog so they can be easily found and understood, and enable mocking and self-registration. These capabilities will get your APIs in the hands of the citizen developers so they can quickly start using them for new business initiatives.
3. Weighs Effort v Value
Balancing the investment of effort versus the value returned is a delicate balancing act. Under investing will result in a substandard outcome and create early technical debt, while over investing will burn precious time and resources, further constraining your ability to deliver. Breaking down and categorising the API will help guide the effort versus value evaluation.
4. Hides complexity
Simplifying API consumption not only greatly adds to the consumer's experience, but also helps to drive API use and reuse. A key aspect of making APIs easy to use is to hide the complexity of what they accomplish from the consumers.
5. Enables Rapid Development
A well-designed API, makes it really easy to quickly build new applications, and with the rise of the business/citizen developer, this becomes even more important. But in order to rapidly build new apps, citizen developers need access to a library of great APIs. So, what are the aspects of an API that will help citizen developers build new apps quickly? I’m glad you asked …. they should be composable, that is modular, self-contained and loosely-coupled and standards-based.
IT governance, at its core, really comes down to managing and mitigating risk. What are the big risks?
- The risk from non-functioning/malfunctioning applications, causing loss of life, revenue, and reputation.
- The risk to the supportability and maintainability of IT assets over time, if not managed correctly causing operational costs to go up, and the ability to execute down.
The level of API governance is not a one size fits all, it needs to be tailored to avoid stifling innovation and exploration.
7. Drives Speed to Market
The speedy delivery of APIs from conception right through to production requires seamless agility throughout the whole API lifecycle to get rid of bottlenecks and build-in efficiency. But like most things in life, it’s always a balancing act - agility must be weighed with stability and good governance. Getting good requirements during the Design phase, automating builds and deployments, the level of testing/test automation and documentation - what is needed at each phase is defined to some degree by the type of API you are building. The different categories of APIs - System, Business and Consumer APIs have different purposes, and the pace of change is different and therefore each can be treated slightly differently to optimise the delivery lifecycle.
8. Enables Innovation
One of the fundamental challenges in aligning IT and the business lies in their diametrically opposite objectives and tendencies. The business is constantly looking for avenues of innovation and ways to differentiate, whereas IT is driven to resist change to deliver stable, reliable and predictable services. Being able to rapidly innovate whilst providing consistent stability is key to delivering a successful API strategy, but how can such opposites co-exist?
Exposing System and Business APIs deliver a predictable and stable foundation to support rapid and agile experimentation and exploration. Consumer APIs tend to follow a completely exploratory mode of work (the other mode in bi-modal) by building upon other stable APIs, allowing both modes of operation to co-exist seamlessly within the API ecosystem.
9. Designed for Growth
As ideas evolve from concept through to prototype, to fully-featured product, it’s important to prepare for success and support the growth that comes along with it. Growth in usage and higher volumes necessitate more detailed attention to the performance of APIs, ensuring that their operations remain optimal and acceptable to consumers. It’s important to prepare for the growth of your API platform, and ensure that your API network can perform well when you start to see your API in hot demand!
10. Enforces API Security
Gartner predicts that “by 2022, API abuses will be the most-frequent attack vector resulting in data breaches for enterprise web applications”. Given the damage this could cause to your brand/reputation and financial standing, not to mention the impact both in terms of privacy and security, securing APIs and the systems that they interact with is of paramount importance. An effective strategy to prevent successful attacks is to easily discover, monitor and secure your APIs.
Want to know more?
We hope we’ve given you some things to think about as you flesh out your API strategy. If you want to know more, download our white paper (don’t worry we won’t ask for your email ;)) - Best Practices for API-Driven Connectivity. Want us to help you with your API Strategy? Contact us today email@example.com.