Axway is proud to be an official sponsor of API World, which took place virtually this year from October 26–28. Thousands of global technical leaders, engineers, software architects, and executives met for the world’s largest and longest-running API and microservices event in its 10th year.
Two of Axway’s own Catalysts presented at the event, offering guidance on how to make APIs work for your company and enabling everybody to think the API way. Keep reading for a summary of their talks, or watch the full presentations for a deeper dive.
Making APIs the default: Enabling everybody to think the API way
Axway Catalyst, Erik Wilde, took the virtual stage on Tuesday, October 26, to discuss how companies truly use APIs in the best possible way.
Wilde pointed out that APIs are much more than technology. It has become increasingly apparent that by only focusing on their technology aspects, people miss out on the biggest opportunities that APIs create for their organization and their business. APIs need to be taken out of an IT-only view so that everybody understands their transformational value to the organization.
“In our work with large organizations, we have realized that one essential aspect of realizing the value proposition of APIs is to API-enable all of the organization. This is particularly important for product managers, who need to start thinking about every single product of an organization as a digital building block.”
Wilde said it’s no simple feat: it takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of internal enablement and communications to make sure people understand it and participate in it. But, he added, it’s unavoidable because organizations will have to make that transition sooner or later.
“Thinking the API Way,” Wilde says, should become the default for everybody in the line of business.
Taming API complexity with automation
Early in their API journey, organizations might adopt an API gateway to create integrations with partners and implement some security policies. At that point, it’s driven by a rather specific use case. Over time, large organizations adopt more gateways for different business units and begin to build a platform. The number of APIs in a company starts increasing dramatically.
Suddenly, they realize they don’t really know what all their APIs are doing, or they don’t really have a coherent strategy throughout the organization.
“We want to help customers make more out of their API investments, because we believe it’s a good thing to open everything that you have and make it more usable and more easily usable,” said Wilde.
In part, it starts with enablement — helping people understand how the organization wants to do business. But, he added, “whatever your governance model looks like, automation can help you make it more efficient.”
Drawing value from APIs
The API is the delivery mechanism, but it’s not the value itself, Wilde said, using the example of a beer to illustrate:
“The API might be the can, or the tap, or the bottle, but it is not the beer. The beer is what consumers really want. And the delivery mechanism is what they need so that they can get it… So, you need delivery. What really matters is that those building blocks that you are building have good value and that people can put them together. And they also need a reasonable API or a reasonable delivery mechanism for that value.”
Wilde recommended viewing APIs as products and reminded attendees of the two main goals in digital transformation: flexibility and velocity. He likens it to the API model of building blocks, which makes it possible to recombine things more quickly.
Flexibility means that companies can build new products and services out of existing building blocks, contribute new capabilities as building blocks to the platform, and improve solution space by making all capabilities available for reuse.
Velocity, Wilde explained, means reducing coordination overhead by making capabilities readily consumable, avoiding duplication of effort by always exposing capabilities for reuse, and reducing the time needed for digital building block management.
API consumption means that your transformation is working, said Wilde, whereas an API that is only produced and not consumed has zero value. Once people in an organization understand that it’s good to produce APIs, they also need to understand that those APIs can and should be used to build new services and products.
“In the end, the value of APIs critically depends on how much of an organization’s business and value chains are exposed using APIs. Only then does it becomes possible to benefit from the loose coupling and the increased velocity that APIs can deliver,” concluded Wilde.
Click here to watch Erik Wilde’s full presentation:
API complexity concerns continue
A poll conducted during the API World conference yielded some interesting results: attendees were asked about their top concern about the number of APIs in their organization. The biggest concern was the cost of managing multiple APIs (31.2%), followed by security (26.1%), consistent standards (17.4%), governance for internal or external users (14.5%), and duplication of APIs (10.9%).
The results echo those of a recent Axway survey conducted by Vanson Bourne, which found that API complexity is growing and holding enterprises back. In the survey, IT decision-makers identified time-consuming management, automation and standardization, and security as top pain points.
The report showed a surprisingly strong correlation between enterprises that have mastered API complexity with an API-first approach (those who can build APIs the quickest), and the number of digital projects they can launch each year.
The best door you’ve ever seen: How your business can get APIs right
Brian Pagano, Chief Catalyst and VP at Axway, presented next on Wednesday, October 27 with a business-level discussion around the theme of APIs as doors.
Pagano explained that looking at APIs as a door to your business is a useful model, but he invites people to take a step back from the enabling technologies to ask some important questions. “If we look at this as a metaphor for business, if APIs are your ‘open for business’ sign in 2021, then you want to get that interface right,” said Pagano.
He says when he advises companies on their API programs, there’s often a great deal of enthusiasm to go API-first. But, he cautions, “a willingness and excitement to do is not enough to be successful in doing those things. You have to be able to define success and then you have to commit and be willing to make the changes necessary to produce that outcome.”
Pagano then highlighted some of the most common mistakes companies make when embracing APIs in their organization:
- Communication failures (internal and external)
- Not defining success
- Insufficient change in mindsets and the organization
- Failure to partner
- Over-engineering at the start
- Not committing to the critical path
“The number-one reason why many projects fail in business or in your personal life is that you don’t have a clear definition of success,” Pagano said. “If you don’t know what you’re trying to do for the business, the best-designed API in the world isn’t going to help you — a hundred well-designed APIs aren’t going to help you.”
Many companies, Pagano said, are overly enthusiastic from the start and want to forklift every single thing they have ever built or bought and expose them as APIs. He says that’s a recipe for disaster:
“What we need to do is scope down and say, what is a critical thing, a single critical thing that we need to accomplish here that would make our customers happier and therefore make our business better. what’s that thing? And how can we do that thing?”
He added that companies often try to use documentation to speed the adoption of APIs. They espouse a philosophy that there is such a thing as a “pure” architecture, a pure business environment they could operate in. But that is a view that’s far from reality, Pagano said.
“Everybody is accumulating tech. Languages go out of fashion. You have mergers and acquisitions. And what you end up with is this kind of a heterogeneous hodgepodge. We’re all living in this very complicated heterogeneous thing, that comes from different teams and different times each meant to solve a problem at the moment,” said Pagano.
Documentation will not solve these problems, he said, because people will naturally gravitate toward the simpler solution. He shared the example of pull doors with a handle and a “push” sign attached.
The natural instinct is to grab the handle and pull, but the sign (read: documentation) insists you should push.
“No wonder conversion rates are low. No wonder there aren’t that many apps built against your API. No wonder you’re having these problems: because you’re fighting a battle that you cannot win. These kinds of things can’t be fixed with documentation,” Pagano said.
Characteristics of a good door
Brian Pagano went on to lay out some characteristics of a good door: Simplicity, Affordability, and Reusability.
“I shouldn’t have to read 50 pages of documentation to understand how you want me to interact with your business. It should be immediately obvious within the first 10 to 15 seconds, what the main draw for your businesses is and why I should be interacting with you,” Pagano said. “The simpler things are and the easier they are to consume the more reusable they’re going to be. They’re not going to be fit for just one very specific purpose.”
Ultimately, he concluded, what will stand between a company’s success and failure is not about coming up with the most complicated, perfect requirements document, the most perfect taxonomy, and most perfect naming convention. It’s understanding that we are solving a problem for our customers.
“What’s going to stop you is that you forgot, in all of the bureaucracy and tech debt and spinning up these new programs, to ask yourself, ‘why are we doing this?’ Because very few customers are standing outside of a store saying, you need better APIs. I’ve never seen it happen, but they might say you have a terrible app or website.”
In order to win, Pagano says to ask yourself why people might come to your door and focus less on the what or how.
“This isn’t about being technologically perfect. This isn’t about some business theory. This is about helping people. And if we do that, our business will be fine,” Pagano concluded.
Click here to watch Brian Pagano’s full presentation.