API Governance: the keystone to success in API Wonderland

by David Roldan Martinez - Senior Enterprise Architect
| minute read

It is far from a secret that when you treat your application programming interfaces or APIs as products, you are able to monetise them. As part of your business strategy, they can effectively open the door to new markets and drive the creation of new innovative solutions. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to forget that you will also need some API Governance in your luggage if you wish to travel to API Wonderland.

Not only have APIs gained significant attention from most of the market players, but an API economy has even emerged as a new market trend. According to that trend, you can monetise your APIs by giving your users and partners access to your data and backend functionalities via those APIs.

Unfortunately, quite often APIs are poorly designed or do not meet quality standards. And just as often that leads to missed business opportunities. API providers also commonly feel the need to involve external users in their API development process. Therefore defining a clear collaboration policy becomes crucial. All these factors, among others, point to API Governance as the only way of securing competitive advantage and business growth for your company, as well as fostering its innovation potential, with API lifecycle management acting as the engine for success.  

API standardisation

In essence, API Governance is a set of processes aimed at guiding your decision-making when deploying an API strategy in your company. Traditionally, API Governance has got a very bad reputation because it has been seen as an inhibitory factor, slowing down API development and delivery. This is partially true when your API development largely remains a manual process rather than being driven by a more competitive, automated approach. And of course, if your API ecosystem is still really small, such pitfalls for success can easily be ignored (although they must not). But if you’re thinking big, keeping an eye on the larger picture and the longer term, you know that API Governance is quite simply a must - as I’ve also suggested in my previous posts on this topic.

The main goal of API Governance is to guarantee the optimal standardisation of your APIs so that they are discoverable, consistent, and reusable. In other words: so that they can be easily consumed by a wider audience, both within your organisation and externally. Thus, thanks to API Governance you can ensure that your APIs will deliver the intended value you’ve created them for in the first place. Sounds easy, does it not? Unfortunately, as API Governance addresses a wide variety of goals, it commonly ends up in conflict.

Framework approach

At this point, it should be crystal clear to you that you need to govern your APIs. Fortunately, in what follows you’ll find a methodological approach to apply what you’ve learned today to your everyday API reality.

Using a framework approach can save you time and money, not to mention a whole lot of headaches. Providing a simple, understandable definition of a framework is not an easy task, though. But for the purpose of this article, let’s define a framework as a set of procedures, guidelines, and best practices that allow you to manage “something” without repeating the errors others have made. (I know, after having written that, I’ll appear on Wild West wanted posters for having killed off Enterprise Architecture. 😊 Sorry for that: it was not my intention. I swear.)

The following figure depicts one of the frameworks I like to use the most for APIfications, because it is built on top of the API lifecycle but also considers the organisation, including internal and external customers and partners.

Source: Huy Bui (2018)

As you can see, the framework divides API Governance in several layers (API Lifecycle Management, Lean Governance & Enablement, and Goals & Strategy), allowing you to “divide and rule”, so to speak. The complexity and granularity of each layer can be handled independently. Furthermore, there is a wide variety of people involved, artifacts created, and activities performed by the different roles in each single stage of the API lifecycle. You can find a detailed description of them all via this link.

Frameworks are not standards

Frameworks can help you manage and streamline the overall strategic process within your organisation, promoting efficiency and resource sharing and decreasing risks, among other benefits. But do not forget that they are not standards. Any framework can be used as deeply as you need or want to, and sometimes at different levels. My advice is: just consider carefully what you really need and want. And always ask yourself what the framework can do for you.

In my next blog post, I will focus on the API lifecycle or, in other words, what happens with your APIs from their creation to their retirement