Your API strategy stands little chance of adoption if you don’t have an API Catalog. But it’s more than a registry — built the right way, it can drive innovation and collaboration for your digital initiatives as a true marketplace for digital products and services.
API marketplaces — making your business consumable, I wrote the above a while back and it got me thinking about revisiting the “venue” that needs to be in place for a digital strategy that makes your business consumable.
I was focusing on the WHAT and HOW by highlighting the importance of the API Catalog. You see, I’ve inserted a new concept into that quote — a “marketplace.”
Let’s take a step back and think more about WHY the establishment of an API marketplace and an open platform is critical for your platform and to succeed in widening your ecosystem and getting the business outcomes to sustain and grow.
For any open digital platform, there are three main components to consider:
- Information exchange
The lifeblood of the digital economy is information exchange, and your ecosystem needs integrated participants (both internal and external) with as little friction as possible.
Onboarding a new partner means making your company as easy to work with as possible. This elevates APIs from just the interfaces or contracts between partners and the systems they used to manage data, to full-blown products in their own right.
This takes you “beyond integration” and into a business platform model in which you can easily extract data from your user community, e.g., financial authorities watching transactions in capital markets, or gathering data from digital behavior, e.g., search engines, social media posts.
Having the right technical capabilities for low friction integration is not enough. Digital is all about experience and you need to entice members and distributors in your ecosystem with a great experience.
The right experience layer in your platform will make the difference between allowing direct members or subscribers plus “embedded partners” to participate and co-develop world-class experiences for innovative digital products and services.
An example of this is Uber embedding payment services like Stripe. Don’t forget that you build on your data exchange capabilities by making it easy for distributed partners to complement your offerings to scale, and that ease is unlocked with great digital experiences.
Now we come back again to the original premise of my first article on API Catalogs — the shopfront of your ecosystem — recast as your marketplace.
The marketplace is what makes the data exchange and experiences consumable and opens up the possibility for a whole new set of “community providers” to get involved with agility and speed.
They need a place to search for and discover the APIs you offer as products in their own right. Therefore, an API Catalog is central to an API marketplace.
Your marketplace mirrors your business and can even help reimagine it
An API Catalog as part of your marketplace is way more than the “service registries” of the past. Don’t present endless pages of unordered lists of APIs.
Your APIs are products in their own right to be proud of. Each API should provide a distinct capability that your business provides and is now being unlocked for your customers or partners in a new and exciting way.
APIs are the building blocks to build great new digital experiences and seamlessly connect your technology systems in a way you never could before.
Think about your favorite online retail marketplaces. The mother of all of these, need I say it, is Amazon.com and other retailers have been playing catch-up ever since.
Think about the experience of using your favorite e-commerce platforms. It would never do just present pages and pages of product results and expect the buyer to just sift through this to find what they need.
Yet, this is what so many API programs are doing. Worse, many are not even using a technology platform made for the purpose and are directing people to spreadsheets and wikis. Yuck.
Managing this API product information can be daunting, but that’s where great information engineering comes in. You can use taxonomies and harness the magic of metadata to help organize things.
Make sure you pay attention to the fact that there will be different ways of classifying your APIs because there will be different audiences within the marketplace coming to your API Catalog for different reasons:
- Product Managers and Digital Strategists — will look to see how they can innovate and take advantage of the value your APIs are offering to build digital products.
- API Providers/Program Planners and Platform/Product Delivery Teams — will be looking for things to reuse and how your APIs can support the capabilities that are being asked for and the data to which they need access to deliver new digital and mobile experiences.
- API Consumers — developers both in and outside your organization — will look to use your APIs directly and get access so they can do further innovation and build the digital products with speed and control.
What about the way products are described? There are very good industry-standard taxonomies out there that break down entire industries by capabilities and can be used as classification systems to cater to all members of your marketplace:
- Insurance – ACORD Capability Model
- Banking – BIAN Service Landscape
- Healthcare – FHIR
- Telecommunications – eTOM
Come and get it — enabling self-service
Once APIs are organized, the API marketplace can become a living, breathing thing. You need to enable self-service to stop your API product teams from becoming a bottleneck and enable continuous API management by multiple teams at scale.
To stop this thing from becoming a horrendous mess, you need to integrate the API Catalog with your API lifecycle management pipeline.
If you don’t have a consistent way to drive the management of an API from conception to publication and consumption, then you have a bigger issue, and the API Catalog won’t be of much use.
As more and more APIs are onboarded to the marketplace, a great way to ensure that the quality of the information in your API Catalog is maintained is to implement an audit before API teams can publish – The No Junk Policy.
This works even better if you’re using API design tooling that can interrogate and validate your API specifications and provide guidance and feedback to the API designer so they can improve and enrich the information they provide to describe the API.
Not just documentation — the “Active” Catalog
So, what’s actually in the API Catalog in more detail? It should be more than just technical specification documentation.
As proposed, you should, at a minimum be classifying the API in a meaningful way for non-IT users. This allows all stakeholders in your API strategy to see the value proposition of your API. Find out more about the VPI.
You can also record non-functional requirements for your API such as service level agreements (SLAs) and expectations about security, performance, and availability.
That should make a whole host of people in your ecosystem with skin in the game for governance happy. No more going off to compliance documents and governance checklists managed in content repositories that no one can find.
The API Catalog has to be part of your delivery pipeline, as well as a registry for search and discovery. We tend to think of this as a Developer Portal and the place where developers come to subscribe to APIs as consumers but it’s much more. This can’t be a stand-alone thing – a silo of information.
An effective API Catalog is the single source of facts about your API from which you can drive downstream automation from your API design efforts directly to your build pipeline. Things change rapidly and digital transformation has accelerated software delivery lifecycles.
You can use the API Catalog to drive continuous API management and finally implement an effective versioning strategy that delights your consumers instead of breaking things for them without warning.
Catalog of the future: the Unified Catalog
As much as we all love APIs, there are other ways of providing “interfaces” to the latent value locked in your core systems.
You’ll have Managed File Transfer, business-to-business system connectors, and other things that exchange data across your enterprise and outside its boundaries and you can represent these “products” alongside your API products in what can be thought of as a “Unified Catalog” to drive further innovation.
Imagine the time and money your business can save having this available all in one place? Additionally, your catalog can provide a common view across all of your APIs regardless of where the services those APIs are fronting are running.
This is going to be a critical capability as organizations move more applications to the cloud while still trying to manage and integrate with existing capabilities on-premise.
There are lots of gains to be achieved including:
- Consolidated authentication/authorization handling hiding your internal complexity
- Central traffic management
- Monitoring, alerts, and insights into API consumption
- A consolidated way to register and onboard consumers
- A way to implement effective versioning strategies
- A resource for support and helpdesk teams to help consumers through usage and adoption issues
Additionally, the API Catalog of the future will not just show APIs as individual stand-alone products but will offer views on how they are combined and recombined into new, innovative digital products.
An example would be a view that shows how a healthcare provider offers a “Health Lifestyle API” that also makes use of a Membership API, a Health Plan API, and a third-party health device API, e.g., Fitbit.
Doing that kind of innovation without a great API Catalog would take much longer and that’s the time most companies no longer have to compete in the digital economy. A large healthcare provider I partnered with calculated that they saved 100 hours per product delivery this way.
Measure what matters
Speaking of communicating wins and business value, the API marketplace can help you measure what matters. It can be your command center to drive improvements in API delivery and measure how your API delivery is directly contributing to business outcomes like increased revenue and improved Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Given that your API Catalog should just be one component in an overall API Management Platform that powers your digital marketplace, you’ll be able to measure not only the running aspects of your APIs but improvements in how quickly you can deliver those new innovations.
Take these ideas and look to make your API Catalog part of a bigger API marketplace strategy and collaboration platform for continuous API management that leads to API adoption in your ecosystem and the innovation you need.
Come talk to the Catalysts at Axway to help you realize your API marketplace vision.
Discover what an API marketplace is, why you need one, and how it can drive value for your business