Jasper Steenweg
Jasper Steenweg
Architect
Rotterdam

Engineering

Building an API ecosystem

Dept Office 2 1

The most successful companies see and use APIs as a way to accelerate business, reach new customers and innovate. Working within an API ecosystem gives them the opportunity to share their data with others or use data from third parties with minimal resources. But building a good API ecosystem requires more than just architecture and technology.

Web services vs. APIs

Web services and APIs have more or less the same functionality within the application landscape, with data being exchanged via interfaces. However, there are differences that have a major impact on development and the way of working, especially in the current era of IT, where rapid application development is essential.

Web services are usually designed by architects with the intention of exchanging data between different internal applications. In contrast, APIs need to be built with the application developer in mind: they have to fit their needs and accelerate application development.

Other differences can be seen regarding costs: while web services focus on saving costs with integrations (IT), APIs are more sales-driven. Frontend applications are also increasingly connected directly to APIs and thus focus on generating revenue (business).

Getting started with a blueprint

Building a good API ecosystem requires more than just architecture and technology. For starters, you need a good blueprint of your strategy. How does the organisation (business, IT, teams, developers) change with regard to working with APIs? What do you need to build and implement your API? How do you involve the use of your API and create a successful API ecosystem within the organisation?

A digital transformation strategy is a good driver for the transition to an API ecosystem. An API ecosystem encourages developers and teams to collaborate and deliver more and better customer experiences. Building new APIs on top of other APIs increases team skills and productivity. A well-documented developer portal, together with a valuable and healthy API, has a major impact on the success of a digital strategy. When you view an API as a ‘product’, the API portal can be seen as a supermarket for developers, a supermarket that is optimised for ‘selling’ APIs. This translates into well-written documentation, simple developer registration and a good procedure for requesting access to APIs, making it a smooth experience for developers.

When we think of a supermarket with APIs, we also have to think carefully about which APIs will be offered, what their lifespan is (are they still up to date or expired?), improvements and whether there are new or better APIs. The API lifecycle must be managed and monitored. For larger APIs, this is a task that can be taken up by a dedicated API team. A (central) team that manages the API and has the responsibility to build and maintain a healthy API ecosystem, with best practices in the field of security, data modeling, REST, etc.

Making choices in architecture and technology

To achieve an ecosystem as described above, we must work both on architecture and technology. A new target architecture depends on the existing application landscape and the chosen strategy. Service-based, micro-service or monolithic architectures all require a different approach when working on an API strategy.

When it comes to technology choices, a good API platform is very important because it will occupy a central place in your ecosystem. A platform that provides scalable, secure and good API management functionality is key. This platform helps in designing, building and implementing the APIs, but also gives good control over your API with access control, speed limitation, monitoring, etc. There are many platforms available, most of them are comparable in functionality and can very well deliver an API.

At DEPT®, we have good experience with Apigee, an API management platform from Google and a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant 2019 for API management. It has a good GUI, extensive security options, automated deployments, monitoring and much more.

Our experts also have good experience with Mulesoft’s Anypoint platform, another leader in API management. Anypoint is a so-called hybrid integration platform including iPaaS, ESB and API management. The Anypoint Design Center makes it possible to quickly build APIs via visual coding.

Microsoft Azure API Management is another manager we use mainly for its simplicity and automation capabilities. By applying Configuration as Code practice, we can easily deploy configurations via, for example, Azure DevOps. Azure APIM is part of Azure Integration Services, a set of services that together enable seamless integration of your applications, data and processes for your enterprise.

Boomi is also a good platform to manage your APIs. Boomi API Management supports the full API lifecycle in a hybrid environment. Configure APIs and visualise real-time integrations effortlessly. By leveraging their low-code integration capabilities, you can more easily overcome integration challenges, accelerate new business models, and deliver digital products faster.

The listed platforms all have an API developer portal available. A developer portal is very important for engaging your API ecosystem because it allows developers to easily discover, explore and request APIs.


Monitoring and preventing irregularities

When strategy, architecture, tooling and APIs are in place, we need to monitor this ecosystem properly. An effective monitoring strategy is important because it provides a lot of information about user experiences, performance and statistics for the company. From all this information we can distill a lot of insights and even predict the (near) future by using machine learning algorithms. Think of algorithms that recognise trends or deviations in errors, response times or other statistics. By sending warnings when crossing predefined thresholds, we can intervene proactively.

If you want to continue to innovate, grow, distinguish and compete as a company, APIs are a must. A 360 approach is essential, including data design, development, infrastructure, security and 24/7 support. Start small, start quickly but above all: go for an open and future-proof API ecosystem.

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