In our previous blog we looked at some of the drivers as to why an API Program is critical for any organisation and how technology strategy and investment must create or optimise business value . In this blog we will examine what this practically means for an organisation as they start on the journey of implementing an API program.
If we break the core components of an API Program down we end up with a simple model of –
- Align the organisation (the “why”)
- Establish your API Strategy (the “what”)
- Technology Rollout (the “how”)
- Engage the value network (the “who”)
A typical approach for many organisations will be to launch directly into the API Strategy and technology rollout. Many times we have been engaged by a client who knows what APIs they want to build and the technology they have chosen to build them on. What they struggle to articulate is why they are building the APIs, who will consume them, and crucially how do they measure the value these APIs will bring to the business. The mistake is they do not engage their organisation at more than a specific project focused technology level and agree on how their API program will provide enduring value to the organisation and surrounding ecosystem.
Aligning your organisation around a common purpose and engaging the right people as you execute is key to a successful API program. This starts with agreeing and socialising your API Vision to your organisation. Are you seeking to be a digital native organisation such as an Amazon or a Netflix or are you simply attempting to leverage new revenue channels or enlarge your customer base. The most famous example of this is Jeff Bezos ‘API Manifesto’, which insisted that all system communication would happen via APIs built for external consumption.
Executing on your API vision will require new roles within your organisation such as API Product Managers who are responsible for all aspects of the product design, management and the socialisation activities as well as Developer relations and API evangelists to promote and foster the use of these new APIs both internally and externally in order to drive their full value.
Embracing a set of organisational values that align to your vision will help you overcome any existing culture around fear of failure and especially the fear of having failures being documented which ultimately leads to a fear of major change due to an expectation of failure. The most successful Digital first companies have embraced the ‘fail fast’ paradigm not because they expect to fail but in the knowledge that innovation requires risks as not every great idea can come to a successful fruition but also that breaking change down into smaller, separated components is both cheaper in the long run and actually reduces the overall risk of a large initiative. API Product Managers and Evangelists are critical in providing the ammunition to the C level to drive this new culture.
Now that we have identified our new organisational roles and started to change our way of thinking in how to develop new products how do we start to engage the value network.
Firstly, you’re probably thinking what the hell is a value network – it sounds like a payment system. A value network or value fabric is just a fancy way of describing a set of internal and external parties that have some joint interest in collaborating. The main reason for the difference in terms is that the value network infers that there is a structured contract between the relevant parties that provides a standard view of the key elements required for a successful end to end service; how to work together, how to provide the end to end management and critically how to integrate. It provides a lingua franca of business process definitions, data structures and KPIs within an accessible framework of APIs – think of Open Banking initiatives in the Finance sector.
Putting in the effort of carefully defining your value network as early as possible and working cross-functionally and inter organisationally to define the vision, business case, roadmap including MVP and support and metrics models for the APIs will automatically drive a key function of the engagement model which is to democratize innovation by providing APIs which remove the complexity of the underlying systems and processes so that both internal and external parties can concentrate on their domains of expertise and generate innovative new products themselves.
As you start to roll out your first set of new products it is very important to remember who your ultimate consumer is – some sort of developer (we use the word developer here in its loosest term as open APIs and the right tooling can make a developer out of just about anyone) who is looking to put together an application or dataset. Providing the most delightful experience possible for this developer will maximize their productivity and drive loyalty which in turn will lead to the best possible marketing you can get at this stage – word of mouth positive experience acknowledgement. Traditional developer experience factors still apply very much here including easy access to the products, clear and relevant documentation, example code snippets, testing environment access etc. As there are now several tools on the market to enable an API Portal it is a lot easier to manage this function but it is still critical to define your requirements and business plan to ensure you pick the right tool for your job.
As you become more comfortable with your network engagement and mature your process you can also start to move to a more real-time digital mindset and start to build a community of like minded developers which again drives loyalty and productivity. Tools do exist for the collaboration aspect of this community but you can also explore more innovative marketing concepts to also build up usage such as hackathons, meetups, training gamification etc.
Hopefully this blog will have given you a sense of the building blocks that will ensure a successful API program. In our next blog we will do a deep dive on the example of Open Banking, to demonstrate that by following the steps described above you can realise value for your organisation and leap-frog your competitors in the process.