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Public API strategy considerations for enterprise adoption

As organizations look for more cost-effective ways to manage data, an evolving landscape with APIs has made the technology more useful for both the business and IT side.

As enterprises shift away from a focus on the development of siloed applications, the focus often moves toward an ecosystem of APIs. This thought process, said Ross Mason, CEO of MuleSoft, has prompted businesses to start thinking about which projects have common capabilities that can be packaged into APIs for reuse on other projects.

"We have seen strong adoption of companies not just doing integration, but also adopting a more formal API strategy," Mason said in an interview. From the business prospective, leaders will need to think about how to provide developers and IT managers with the kinds of tools and capabilities they need to build communities around APIs, including how to set up a public API strategy, how to fund it and how to create metrics that show other parts of the organization the value and effectiveness of using APIs.

Sanctioned building blocks

"It is more around driving consumption around APIs and not just building them," Mason said. In the old model, business teams would throw projects over the wall to IT, which would deliver them.

Now, the IT and business teams form more of a partnership. Part of this is because business teams are savvier in terms of understanding the kinds of capabilities they need to deliver more workflows on their own. "This is why you are seeing more citizen integration and SaaS applications," Mason said. One good strategy is for IT and development teams to focus on the delivery of sanctioned building blocks that business teams or even external partners can consume.

The rise of API strategies

Many legacy systems were built on service-oriented architectures with technologies such as web services to provide some internal structure to a larger enterprise infrastructure. However, they didn't work well across enterprises. "If you tried to use someone else's SOAP API, it was incredibly complicated," Mason said.

If we did not have public APIs on the web, we would not have had the innovation that brought the iPhone.
Ross MasonCEO, MuleSoft

One of the biggest innovations of modern APIs was their consumption-driven design. Businesses started to understand the value of packaging digital capabilities. New abstractions such as API account packages made it easy to provide a well-defined structure that anyone could discover and start to use without a formal request.

It played out well on the web and helped drive the mobile revolution. The iPhone is often heralded as the key piece of innovation, "But if we did not have public APIs on the web, we would not have had the innovation that brought the iPhone," Mason said.

Now, API management tools have started to incorporate more security and data governance capabilities into a separate tier. Developers can focus on core service development independently of security and compliance teams. As a result, it becomes easier to enforce new rules without the need to rebuild code. "I don't want to have to rebuild the API because GDPR rules now require a new policy," Mason said.

Become an API producer

Ultimately, the rise of the API economy helped fuel the growth of API management providers such as MuleSoft, Jitterbit, Apigee and Dell Boomi. At first, enterprises looked at these providers as technology fads. Things took off once the tools began to differentiate themselves from traditional SOA middleware.

Even older businesses have started to take heed of the trend. For example, HSBC -- a large retail bank in the U.K. and a MuleSoft user -- has developed a strategy to make banking services available as public APIs. Over the last couple years, HSBC has created more than 3,000 APIs. It currently runs about 35 million interactions per day for things like transfers, deposits or withdrawals through the APIs.

This API initiative was partly in response to new, open banking service regulations that required banks to open their data to third-party services. But it has also led to a booming business as a service provider to more innovative fintech startups.

It's taken a while for enterprises to understand why they should adopt an API strategy. "The key reason is to democratize citizen innovation," Mason said. "If you are not producing in the API economy, you are just a consumer."

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