APIs are how software talks to software. When software sits down to eat the world, the conversation with the waiter is an API. The menu is an API; the table was booked via an API; the directions to the restaurant was an API. The recipe was an API; the ingredients were ordered via APIs, and so on.
As computation becomes distributed, as devices become smart, and as business models become algorithmic, software permeates every interaction. Software doesn't just sit in the datacenter, but it doesn't just sit in the cloud, either. It's on your phone, it's in your home, it's in your car. And all those bits of software are talking to each other.
An API-first approach gives voice to software
The value of software in the digital age comes from how well it talks to other software. What enables this conversation? APIs. They connect the apps, data, and devices that must talk to each other in a connected world.
“API-first” starts with the end in mind. Traditional IT has focused on APIs as an afterthought. It’s focused on inside-out thinking: how do I build, and what languages, tools, processes, and even what cloud do I use?
Digital/modern IT focuses on where value is being delivered to the customer—whether internal or external. We describe it as “outside-in.” It’s about designing APIs based on the requirements of your organization's ecosystem (the API consumers, for example). This approach is more effective than simply generating APIs based on existing infrastructure and data models, according to Gartner.
In other words, API-first thinking happens when we build our software to be part of the broader conversation, also known as “the API ecosystem.”
Not all APIs are created equal
APIs have come to serve very different roles in the way they are used. As Apigee has helped businesses around the world with their API initiatives, we have seen people think about APIs in three distinct ways: APIs as services, APIs as interactions, and APIs as products.
APIs as services This is how we build software out of software. Historically, this has been done with service-oriented architecture or SOA. More recently, developers have adopted “microservices” as the new service architecture for the cloud-native world. Most enterprises today consider APIs as services, as part of their SOA or integration architectures, and their APIs are built and managed by SOA and API architects.
APIs as interactions This is how the physical world talks to the world of software. This includes mobile, IoT, and digital interactions or experiences. Many enterprises now think about APIs as interactions for mobile, and their APIs are built and managed by mobile and web-tier developers as part of their mobile and UX efforts.
APIs as products This is how we package, distribute, and monetize software in the age of SaaS. The APIs as products model drives the API economy. Many startups and an increasing number of enterprises have successfully adopted this strategy, and more are doing so every day. Companies that successfully operate the APIs as products model think about APIs in the same way as they do any product or service, and impart responsibility for the success of their APIs and their API program to product managers.
All of these APIs live in API ecosystems, which are made possible through interoperability. In our software-driven world, this interoperability is achieved through APIs that adhere to standard contracts based on common protocols, and that are secure and easily discoverable and usable by developers.
API-first and the need for a connected business platform
API-first is not an aspirational strategy for the future. It represents the culmination of almost two decades of transition of middleware and service-oriented design, made current with microservices and cloud-connected application services.
Over half of all developers today regularly build or consume web APIs as part of their daily work. API-first is an acknowledgement of how software is built today by smart developers—and it’s a business mindset applied by smart executives.
API-first not only drives the growing need for the technology and services that help companies to build and use APIs, but it has opened up the need for an entire new type of business platform, one that enables companies large and small to participate in the new digital ecosystem that APIs make possible.
The mission of the Google Cloud Platform and, specifically, GCP’s Apigee platform, is to make this connected business platform a reality.
Learn more at Adapt or Die London
I’ll be discussing API-first on Feb. 23 at the London stop of our Adapt or Die World Tour. Joining me will be Gartner vice president of research Paolo Malinverno, who will discuss the importance of digital business platforms, and how API management relates to digital strategies and the API ecosystem. You should join us, too.
The Apigee World Tour is a concentrated one-day, hands-on, immersive dive into digital strategy and API technology. The tour will also make a stop in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 8.