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Views from the Lab

Accenture Technology Labs Staff

Driving innovation and agility through an API strategy

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Ensuring strategy, governance, design, build, and operation

Today’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) play the role of business-level artefacts, which provide the means to enable new business models and modes of efficiency. This could be interacting with customers over new mobility and social channels, reaching new customers through partner and third party apps, or monetising your data and services for use by others, and maximising IT efficiency.

APIs are the common keys that scale IT capability and unlock business innovation and agility by providing readily available data and services that extend beyond the organisation. For example, APIs offer a common services platform, which is especially important in the case of mobility; a self-service model, which enhances functionality on their own without being limited by only what can be done by the IT department. It can also give a unique offering to customers that may not available elsewhere providing opportunities for monetisation if successful.

APIs serve as the fixed point that decouples access from IT implementation allowing each to evolve independently. IT can innovate and update back-end systems at the pace of technology. For example, modernising a legacy mainframe back-end system does propagate changes to the systems of access who continue using the same APIs. The right set of APIs enables a framework for internal, partner, and external users to reuse, evolve, and scale its capability.

However, just having APIs is not enough. There is a big difference between an ad-hoc set of APIs compared to a carefully curated and managed set. Achieving the latter requires an API program that covers the APIs through strategy, governance, design, build, and operation.

Ad-hoc API growth can quickly become unruly as the number of APIs, their versions, the number of users, and their types of access grow. Stand-alone services will not be enough to attract and retain users. Without visibility into who is using the APIs, it is difficult to determine what APIs and access are truly important.

  • An API program drives a unified approach across the API lifecycle stages. To create and manage a curated set of APIs companies need to consider the following to achieve business innovation and agility:
  • Strategy: Sets the business goals and value proposition, and answers “what do you want your APIs to do” and “what is the business model.”
  • Governance: Accounts for the risk and responsibility of the set strategy, and identifies the API owners and sponsorships.
  • Design: Defines the needed APIs from a technical perspective of “what each API does” to drive the strategy and conform to the governance; the design stage results in a set of API definitions.
  • Build: Implements the APIs. This structured approach minimizes risk and rework.
  • Operate: Leverages API management tools such as those from Apigee, Layer 7 and Mashery, to manage and monitor the APIs.
The API program is not a one-time process, but an agile model. Companies must regularly revisit the beginning stages to effectively allocate resources and introduce updates based on changes in the usage and the desired goals.

The role of APIs is quickly being promoted as something every organisation needs. Now the questions involve what can they do for me, and how do I get there? As technical components alone APIs can be simple to build, but by themselves only enable access. The challenge and reward lies in creating an API program directed to a common goal. The result defines a compelling set of services that will attract and satisfy users, and a standardised governance and management model for consistent operations; ultimately enabling developers to help themselves and in return to help your business innovate and grow.

Posted by By Teresa Tung and Kunal Taneja

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