We’re currently experiencing a rise in the usage of APIs in our IT architecture. This phenomenon is mainly boosted by the need to accelerate customer processes – on-demand and in real time – as well as the interconnection of large ecosystems of partners to expand the offering catalog consistently. In this article, written by Yoann Kolnik, IT Transformation Manager, and Mohcine Aterhzaz, API Leader, we explore the importance of API governance and its benefits, as well as its stakeholders and processes. APIs are often wrongly seen as just a technical element of an IT system. However, APIs are more of a strategic choice of architecture which requires a large coordination of efforts within the enterprise and a governance to animate all actors involved.
1. Why Is API Governance Essential?
For the past two decades, the importance of APIs in IT has constantly risen. This phenomenon is due to the fact that enterprises grew aware of the importance of data and are trying to extract the most value from it. Hence the rise of APIs as they appear as a performing way to manage those data flows with fluidity and security.
IT managers are getting pressured more and more to open their IT systems to customers, users, and ecosystem partners. APIs make this opening easy by offering the required flexibility and allowing cheaper interconnections, while still being in a secured environment.
Deployments of APIs increased within large enterprises because of the obvious complexity of their huge IT systems. However, an aspect has often been neglected: The need for a governance of APIs in order to decrease creation and exploitation costs.
As a fictional case study, let’s take the example of a bank institution which successfully created and exploited APIs to develop its indirect sales with its bigger distributors. The commercial success is here. Quite logically, the bank institution wants to expand the use of APIs to all partners. It then becomes crucial to organize APIs into a consistent catalog of products. The creation of this catalog is the result of the collaboration between stakeholders from IT management, business teams, and external partners. In order to animate and coordinate those many stakeholders, some governance is necessary so that:
- Business teams can be aligned with IT management from ideation to promotion of the APIs;
- APIs can be more exposed and attractive with the use of a product-oriented approach;
- The product offering is more consistent overall with the inclusion of the IT and commercial ecosystems;
- The reusability of APIs is improved while development and exploitation costs are decreased.
2. Key Processes of an API Strategy
Processes working for an efficient API governance aim to assure API security, stability, consistency, and quality, while maximizing their value for stakeholders. Here are the main processes of an API strategy:
- Strategic planning: Design a vision and an overall strategy for the use and the development of APIs, aligned with the organization’s business objectives.
- Conception, development, and documentation of APIs: Conceive, develop, and document APIs in a consistent way, in the respect of norms and good practices, while considering the needs of developers and users.
- Validation and approval of APIs: Set up API testing and validation processes to guarantee a proper functioning, quality, and compliance to demands. APIs must be approved before being published into the catalog.
- Version management: Set up processes in order to manage the different versions of APIs, including changes, retrocompatibility, and efficient communication with users and developers.
- API security: Set up strong security measures to protect APIs against potential threats such as authentication, authorization, data crypting, and vulnerability management.
- Partnership management: Define processes to set up, manage, and evaluate partnerships with third parties, including relevant partnerships, contract negotiation, performance follow-up, and solving potential problems.
- Usage of APIs: Follow and analyze the usage of APIs, collect comments and data on performance in order to continuously improve APIs and match the needs of users.
API governance brings together a complex ecosystem in which every stakeholder plays a part to ensure the success of every API-related initiative. By establishing strong processes and promoting collaboration between teams, organizations can fully benefit from the value created by APIs while ensuring their integrity.
3. API Governance: A Heterogeneous Ecosystem of Stakeholders
API governance is much more than an IT issue. It organizes the collaboration of all actors of the API catalog, both within and outside the organization.
For example, we usually find the following stakeholders:
- IT teams, and more particularly the API team (API Factory), who administer and manage the infrastructure (often an API management platform). This team is made of a manager, getting the help from architects, technical project managers, API Product Owners, and experts in the platform.
- Marketing teams, who represent clients, have a key role in the definition of APIs as a product, in the marketing strategy, and the market launch.
- Legal teams bring the required expertise in the contracting of services offered by APIs, ensuring their protection against legal and regulatory risks, and guaranteeing their compliance towards GDPR.
- API editors improve and push the solution forward in order to develop the value, accessibility, and security of the API;
- Tech partners and other ecosystem teams, who often contribute significantly to the value of the catalog’s offering, by completing the enterprise’s services with their own services and data.
4. API Factory: The Cornerstone of Digital Transformation?
At the heart of the organization, the API Factory has a strategic role in the promotion, governance, and support of APIs. Acting as a hub, it orchestrates the different API-related activities and therefore helps in the digital transformation of the enterprise.
The API Factory team plays a crucial part in the API evangelization. By raising awareness and promoting the use of those programming interfaces, it encourages the many stakeholders to fully exploit their potential. With the help of targeted communication initiatives and awareness campaigns, the API Factory directs the attention on advantages of APIs and pushes towards the adoption of those at every level of the organization.
Among others, the API Factory defines principles and rules that regulate the design, development, and management of APIs. By setting norms and good practices, it ensures the consistency and quality of APIs within the enterprise. These directives allow a high level of reliability, interoperability, and security, and therefore improves the trust from users and developers.
Another aspect of the API Factory is training. By upskilling developers and tech teams, it enables them to fully exploit the potential of APIs. With the help of well-designed training programs and pedagogical resources, the API Factory facilitates the acquisition of essential technical knowledge and encourages innovation in application development.
The API Factory also offers high-level tech support, as it offers assistance to API users by answering their questions, solving their technical problems, and offering a personal follow-up. This proactive approach guarantees a fluid and positive experience for every user and therefore enhances the level of adoption and usage of APIs within the enterprise.
Last but not least, the API Factory plays a key role in the conception and deployment of API solutions. Thanks to its technical expertise and deep knowledge of the enterprise’s needs; it ensures a harmonious integration of APIs in the different projects and processes. This ability to bring high-quality API solutions contributes to the acceleration of development initiatives and the optimization of operations of the enterprise.
With those key roles of evangelization, definition of principles, training, tech support, and delivery, it boosts the adoption, governance, and an efficient exploitation of APIs. Thanks to its central role, the API Factory contributes to the creation of a culture revolving around APIs, therefore stimulating the enterprise’s innovation and growth in today’s digital economy.
5. Optimizing API Governance: The Role of Specialized Committees
API governance can be organized by setting up specific committees responsible for various aspects of API management and evolution. It’s important to note that the composition and responsibilities of these committees can vary depending on the size and structure of the enterprise.
Here are some usual committees, their objectives, and the actors involved:
API Governance Committee
This committee oversees the global governance of the API program. It’s made of representatives of the different stakeholders, like business executives, tech architects, and project management experts.
API Design Committee
This committee sets norms and good practices for the design and development of APIs. It includes API Designers, tech architects, and business representatives. Its objective is to guarantee consistency, quality, and conviviality of APIs within the enterprise.
API Security Committee
This committee focuses on the security of APIs. It includes security experts and compliance executives. Its role is to make sure APIs are designed and managed in a secured way and respect security and data protection norms. These committees play a key role in API governance by making sure norms, good practices and security measures are correctly set up. They promote a collaborative approach and informed decision-making to ensure the success and reliability of APIs within the enterprise.
Why is API governance essential?
API governance is essential to manage data fluxes, open IT systems, and decrease costs.
What are the stakeholders involved in API governance?
The IT, marketing, and legal teams, API editors, and key partners are among the stakeholders.
What are the key processes of API governance?
Processes include strategic planning, development and documenting of APIs, validation and approval of APIs, version management, partnership management, and the usage of APIs.