Over the last 10 years, APIs have become the de facto tool of modern software development. “Let’s build an API for that,” is a natural reaction to a technical problem. While APIs play a key role, many engineering organizations are now overflowing with non-strategic services.
Developer confusion might have been limited if those groups had asked these two questions:
- What is the goal of this API?
- How will the API achieve this goal?
On the surface, those seem like simple questions. Yet, most organizations could not point to anywhere that they were asked or answered.
What is the Goal of Your API?
There’s a larger purpose behind any API. Even when it’s a technical piece of a bigger solution, it’s important to keep that business goal in mind. Without it, you risk building blindly, which could result in decisions that aren’t congruent with the overall goal.
There’s a good chance your organization has some quarterly or annual goals. While not every project can directly map its contributions to those goals, you should be able to tell a story that makes a connection to the business value. To do that, you ensure there is a strategic reason to build each API.
Three common areas of API business value include:
- Increase revenue
- Reach more customers
- Enable more efficiency
Your organization may have goals that fit one or more of those categories already. Again, the API does not need to directly provide this return, but it could. Define the goal where you’re aimed and which business values can help you get there.
How Does Your API Support Your Goal?
Now that your API is aimed at an important objective, map out how you’ll get there. Answering this question starts to provide the tactics you’ll use to support your API strategy. You want to make your story that connects your API and its business values to the goals more detailed. It is also a good time to make sure others in your organization have bought into the narrative.
For example, let’s say your API will enable more efficiency, which fits a company goal of digital transformation. Now you need to get specific, because that could mean:
- A front-end team will more easily be able to access backend systems
- Partners will help you integrate more easily with external systems
Both of these support the goal, but how they provide the business value is very different. It will also take a distinct approach to make each successful as API initiatives.
Simple Questions, Important Answers
If your organization is full of non-strategic APIs, you might be tempted to reach for all-or-nothing solutions. You could start from scratch, taking care to build based on strategy. Or, you could declare it futile and not think critically about your API approach.
Clearly, neither of those ends of the spectrum are reasonable. Instead, dig into API strategy and do your best to answer these two important questions with the next API you build.