Why your company needs an API strategy

'If APIs really are the next digitally-disruptive barometer force, you’re going to need a dinner party definition that anyone can grasp.'
23 September 2019 | 2 Shares

APIs serve as software ‘glue’. Source: Shutterstock

You may have heard of digital transformation and disruption. You may already be yawning by now because, admittedly, the industry has been talking about all things cloud, mobile, big data, AI and Internet of Things for most of the current decade.

Coming out of this maelstrom of change which every firm now has to navigate is the need for every firm to reinvent itself as a software-centric technology company. In every industry vertical from petrochemicals to baking, the companies of yesteryear are now becoming IT-driven oil and gas specialists and AI-empowered cake bakers.

This is the base level of our home truths in this arena and we now know that software is eating the world and every firm (or every long term successful firm) is a tech company with a technology strategy to match.

But there’s a deeper disruption afoot and it stems from interconnectivity.

C-suite wake up calls

Just as your grandmother now knows what an ‘app’ is, the C-suite boardroom suits have learnt what big data is, they’ve heard of blockchain and they’re aware that there might be something called quantum computing that they need to think about in the next decade.

The next wake up call for management is, arguably, the need to understand how their IT stack works with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), the key synaptic connection points that interconnect modern technology platforms.

While APIs are the realm of the developer/programmer function, management does need to remember that our grandmas (if we’re lucky enough to still have one) didn’t know what a software application was back in 2000. The boardroom is now appreciating the fact that some working knowledge of how the company formulates its API strategy is fundamental to knowing how the organization works with customers, partners and the essential ancillary services that APIs allow a business to plug into.

Dinner party definition

If APIs really are the next digitally-disruptive barometer force, you’re going to need a dinner party definition that anyone can grasp… so here goes.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a kind of software glue. They’re software in and of themselves, but the APIs sole task is to allow us to build a conduit inside an application so that it can make service requests from another application, another smaller element of software (such as a microservice) or another computer’s operating system.

You know how your favorite hotel offers a ‘how to find us’ directions map on its home pages that is somehow ‘drawn into the page’ from Google Maps? That’s because Google has ‘exposed’ an open channel to its maps service by making the Google Maps API itself open. 

If you’ve mastered the above definition and want to go for the sucker-punch follow up, you can also remember that APIs have a ‘required syntax’ (a specific way of being written in code) and are implemented by what are known as ‘function calls’, which are actually comparatively high-level code language i.e. close to English.

Why have an API strategy?

If APIs are proliferating and enabling these intelligent, but managed routes to software interconnectivity across the web, then why should a firm have an API strategy? The first reason should hopefully be obvious i.e. you need to decide whether to be open or not and allow third party programmers to ‘code to’ (i.e. connect with) the APIs you build.

The more subtle reasons for doing APIs right comes down to factors like efficiency. Google itself calls for the construction of what it calls ‘polite’ APIs. “Polite Use of Google APIs [is encouraged, because] poorly designed API clients can place more load than necessary on both the Internet and Google’s servers.”

Google isn’t alone in laying behavioral guidelines and working to create management layers capable of looking after esoteric new aspects of technology such as ‘API health’ these days.

Oracle used the Code One element of its recent annual conference to focus on developers and detail its work to build Oracle API Gateway. This is a platform for managing, delivering and securing web APIs. It provides integration, acceleration, governance and security for API-based systems and is available on the Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems.

Oracle API Gateway includes features dedicated to looking after identity management, scalability, REST APIs, data enrichment, governance, reporting and the wonderfully named act of ‘traffic throttling’, which is a control mechanism to help smooth out spikes in user demand.

We don’t expect every CEO and CFO to start asking the CIO and CTO what the firm’s API strategy is tomorrow, but this is a technology that is coming to the fore and will gain an increasing amount of wider spread awareness going forward. 

If nothing else, at least you can now show off at dinner parties.