Join the API economy
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and web services allow developers to quickly integrate advanced functionality into their applications. By providing APIs of your own, you become an infrastructure others can build upon.
Why consider it?
Your digital service is unlikely to stand on its own. Often, customers will want to use your applications in conjunction with other apps. By providing an API, you allow third parties to integrate with you, without needing to do all the work yourself. This integration is labour-intensive work that you can entirely outsource to integrators and/or the customer by offering APIs and proper documentation. Doing so will keep your own development team lean and focused on the core digital offering.
Services such as Amazon Web Services and Google Maps popularised the idea of web services and APIs. With a few lines of code, developers can include advanced functionality in their applications, without having to worry about the heavy lifting involved in building that functionality. Thanks to Google Maps, for example, there is no need for a mapping and GIS expert to incorporate maps into your website. Similarly, developers can integrate with over 15,000 APIs. This ecosystem of public web services and APIs is known as the API economy. By opening up your digital service through well-designed APIs, you too can target the developer and integrator market.
As well as the need for integration, the digital services market itself is growing. The number of SaaS and cloud offerings increases every year. Cloud and SaaS developers are now a market in themselves. By packaging your solution in the form of a web service or API, you can tap into that market. Examples are payment APIs, such as Stripe.com, and security APIs, such as castle.io.
What does it involve?
- Bringing an API to market is different to bringing an end product to market: your main target audience are developers. This means that you will have to invest in technical documentation detailing how to use your API and engage with the software development community.
- APIs evolve more slowly than cloud products: once a specific version of an API is released and developers build applications using it, it cannot simply be changed. Doing so would instantly cause applications to break and fail, and would swamp your support crew with tons of angry customers. Be prepared to support multiple versions of your APIs, web services and documentation.
- Since the purpose of APIs is to allow computers to talk to each other easily, it is becoming easy and cheap to automate actions. Be prepared for your API to be misused. Imagine the following scenario: a developer, willingly or not, writes a tight loop, calling your API multiple times a second. These kinds of scenarios are less likely to happen with traditional (web-based) user interfaces. You will need to enforce strict policies and rate limits for your APIs to protect your own resources. To do so, you will need to monitor and meter customers' API usage and ensure that it is in line with the user's plans.