In application programming interface (API) defines the correct way for a developer to request services from an operating system (OS) or other application and expose data within different contexts and through multiple channels.
Beyond the nitty-gritty of API programming, once developed and published, an API provides point-to-point connectivity between business processes spanning internal and external systems. Some connect to operating system services or microservices, while others act as a gateway to access complex business workflows.
For example, a food producer can display APIs covering traceability, ingredients, and stock units (SKUs); a supermarket could use them to manage stock levels in its distribution centers; then logistics providers’ APIs could be used to ensure that food producers’ orders are shipped smoothly to distribution centers by having a script that automates reordering based on a threshold stock level.
In the business-to-consumer space, an internal API could tell an e-commerce site if stock is available and ready to ship, an external API could provide payment services, and another could connect with the shipping provider to enable the service courier send tracking information directly to the customer.
Often referred to as the glue that binds smaller applications, web services, operating systems, or application components together, an API is written with a required syntax and implemented using function calls made up of verbs and nouns. In practice, developers can take advantage of pre-built functionality, through its APIs, to speed up software development or access operating system services, or send or request data from an enterprise application.
For those you are not familiar with the jargon associated with computer programming, to display the API, a software developer needs to create a function call, which has been designed to receive certain parameters, such as data values. This data provides flexibility to the API developer, allowing the functionality to change based on the parameters entered. return a value like “what is the state of the semaphore?”.
The good news is that developers don’t have to be experts in the technical details of how and why the API works. You only need to know three things: that the API exists and what it is for; what parameters do you need; and what values it returns to the calling program.
Armed with these, a developer can access operating system services, read and write data the right way to and from enterprise data stores, and gain access to advanced technologies for applications ranging from the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing to artificial intelligence (AI) and even quantum computing.
While APIs are not a new concept, it is important for IT decision makers to clarify which APIs are internal and available to teams developing software, and which are external and available to internal and external stakeholders. possibly external partners if there is a business imperative to do so. open API access.
Analyst Gartner defines five areas of API management, covering developer enablement, business alignment, and key performance indicators, as well as API lifecycle management and API gateways that provide controlled access to APIs. the APIs. The analyst firm urges IT leaders to rate their organization’s maturity in each of these areas, ranging from “nonexistent” to “optimizing,” to help them decide where they should focus.
In the Gartner article, What are the three steps to a successful API product? Analyst Carolin Zhou recommends that IT leaders determine where their organization wants to be in the future by defining their most critical business goals, determining their leaders’ organization’s current and long-term business goals, and then creating API use cases.
“IT teams must engage business stakeholders to determine where APIs are needed, providing use cases to senior management and other decision makers to demonstrate the value of APIs,” he writes in the report. “When building the business case for an API and securing executive support, you should think of the API as a product, not a project. Appointing an API Product Manager and creating an API Platform Team is helpful. This will help build enthusiasm for using API products to enable business agility and speed to market.”
After determining which APIs are needed, Zhou recommends that IT leaders look for the gaps between the organization’s most important API use cases and its business goals. This may include automated service level monitoring capabilities, compliance requirements, or similar functions. “These gaps are opportunities for you to build these APIs with a product focus and roadmap in mind for continuous improvement,” she says.
Gartner recommends that organizations fill the gaps discovered by mapping measurable API use cases to their business objectives. As Zhou points out, IT leaders need to think about how their APIs can contribute to these goals, and then translate those into metrics they can use to measure value, such as quality of API design, number of API calls, and the like. .
The analyst firm’s research on the importance of aligning API strategy with business goals mirrors the findings of a recent study by Mulesoft, which began using the term “fusion teams” to describe how business and IT people collaborate. with different skill sets.
According to Mulesoft, to address process challenges brought on by the worsening economic climate, senior IT leaders are looking to create fusion teams aimed at addressing inefficiencies. These are multi-disciplinary teams that combine workers with technology, analytics, or domain expertise, and who share responsibility for business and technology outcomes.
“Changing economic headwinds are making technology even more critical to success in every part of the business, including sales, service, marketing, commerce and IT,” says McLarty.
Research published by Mulesoft, based on a global survey of 1,000 IT decision makers, found that 69% of organizations have created or are in the process of implementing fusion teams, with an additional 22% planning to do so within the next few years. 12 months. . Mulesoft found that in organizations that already have merged teams, nearly two-thirds (63%) of IT leaders say these teams have helped the business achieve its goals.
Mulesoft’s survey reports that the majority of senior IT leaders believe that systems or data integration projects take too long (66%) and are too costly (69%). At the same time, more than two-thirds (68%) agree that a lack of data or system integration creates a disconnected customer experience. Nearly all (98%) of the senior IT leaders who participated in the Mulesoft study say that new investments are influenced by a tool’s ability to integrate with existing technology.
While not every organization has a dedicated API team, the API Product Manager role is gradually becoming more formalized, recognized, and popularized. According to Alessandro Chimera, director of digitization strategy at Tibco, API development is democratizing and expanding to become a more ubiquitous discipline and skill.
“In many ways, the challenge with APIs is a human one. APIs are quickly implemented and (when built with care and awareness) execute their functions quickly and succinctly,” he says.
Chimera believes that this change also requires people to adapt. He says this is because effective use of APIs requires a new way of thinking about associations; a new way of thinking about collaborating, connecting and coordinating.
For example, the use of APIs for data access reduces the level of ongoing maintenance that developers must perform. For example, software developers can eliminate the tasks associated with installing and updating drivers, or rely on unsupported drivers for their applications to work.
Data access can also be simplified, according to Jeff Carpenter, an engineering trainer at DataStax, who says data services take the burden off programmers who have to maintain their own data access or abstraction layer. “Using APIs instead of direct connections like Object Relational Mapping (ORM) removes a major source of complexity needed to get things to work the way your team wants them to.”
Carpenter says that another great benefit of using APIs to interact with data is that the programming team can use the style of APIs they are most familiar with, such as REST, gRPC, or document-based. This reduces the learning curve to start managing data and keeps the team focused on developing the core business logic of their applications.
From an API strategy perspective, Mulesoft’s idea of a fusion team is a key ingredient for success, especially if the data exposed by the API requires specialized knowledge, which can create a barrier in terms of expertise needed. to use an API.
In a recent interview with Computer Weekly, James Fleming, IT director at the Francis Crick Institute, discussed the challenges of sharing medical research data between different organizations globally. For one thing, virtual private network (VPN) access is probably the most basic means of allowing researchers to access a remote file store. The other extreme is API-based access, which can offer a very granular level of programmatic control.
However, Fleming says that while APIs work well if the data being accessed is well understood, the vast majority of research data doesn’t fit into this category. Beyond scientific research data, there are bound to be numerous examples of esoteric internal data stores that make little sense to someone outside the organization. Does access through an API make sense and, if necessary, what level of experience does the programmer require to use it correctly?
Beyond the need for domain expertise to get the most out of developing APIs for others to use, Algolia CEO Bernadette Nixon believes in the idea of having an API strategy first. This means thinking about APIs early in the development process for new products and services. For Nixon, an API-first strategy offers organizations flexibility, speed, and backwards compatibility.
From a flexibility standpoint, he says that APIs should be designed to handle a wide range of use cases, which is the opposite of what a product or platform vendor does. In terms of speed, Nixon says an API should handle the speed of intense performance and application “calls” without developers having to worry about performance tuning.
As for backwards compatibility, he adds: “Organizations that want to offer an effective API need to think about backwards compatibility. This is so developers don’t get stuck doing heavy maintenance work when they should be building front-end functionality.”