Connecting a Disconnected Enterprise API First Paradigm in New Normal
Published on : Saturday 01-05-2021
A well thought-out digital backbone using API First approach can play a big role in maintaining the status quo of the new normal.
The importance of data has never come into such focus as it did over the last year, when organisations all over the world were hit with the shockwaves of Covid-19. The quote “Data is new oil”, credited to Mathematician Clive Humby, picked up steam after The Economist published a 2017 report titled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data'', and the willingness of organisations to turn to AI and ML to find coherence in today's disconnected enterprise has increased.
While it is true that the future of computing will be Machine Learning and Artificial Interface with a huge focus on data, the fact that the digital backbone which connects all of them is often overlooked. Enterprises started realising that in the latter half of 2010s about API (Application Programming Interface) economy – a world where they could plug and play capabilities as and when business issues needed to be solved. The amount of flexibility such an ecosystem can give is unparalleled. This is what an API-first paradigm is: enabling the enterprises, where modular applications form a part of a larger ecosystem. This approach creates a software design that keeps APIs in the centre of the applications creation process, so that interfacing with internal and external ecosystems is intuitive and simple. In a nutshell, API-first architecture is an approach that creates ecosystems of applications that are modular, extensible and reusable.
Gartner articulated as early as 2016 that we live in the API economy already, and the API First paradigm is evolving. Maturing and getting adopted in different ways ever since, it is considered as one of the key pillars of digital transformation. A popular success story for API first approach which is cited in multiple forums is Twilio’s. Twilio’s product is an API that integrates phone capabilities into apps like Uber, which was a challenge for many developers. So, it might be considered as a big deal when Twilio CEO, Jeff Lawson, made his pitch to investors, saying, “We have taken the entire messy and complex world of telephony and reduced it to five API calls.”
The need to get to API First, fast
Like any new product on the market, API first paradigm was evolving steadily, until the pandemic hit all industries in 2020. This sent digital adoption into overdrive: According to Forbes, Covid-19 has been credited as the driving force leading digital transformation for many companies. Organisations that were not already pursuing digital innovation have been thrust into the digital arena and forced to make rapid changes. Regardless of what their strategy looked like coming into 2020, today’s leaders are managing an accelerated pace of change as everyone seeks to serve customers in new ways. Bringing a disconnected system under one larger view is one such task. Organisations with such disconnected applications and processes are forced to think about how to connect these systems & processes for customers, partners & employees, and instead of going for a stopgap arrangement like using too many connections within same pipeline that reduces efficiency, organisations can have applications communicate with each other because the need to be in same location for execution of tasks will reduce – and the processes will be simplified. The shift will be swift if the API First paradigm is followed, which also provides other advantages like the ability to roll initiatives such as health passport, contact tracing among others.
The advantages of API-First development
The API-first approach helps developers make the best use of microservices-based applications, and ensures that their apps and services can be utilised by a wide range of people, products, and services. Following the approach also leads to:
More scalable systems
The loose connections of APIs allow for the services handled by the APIs are as stateless and RESTful as possible. The scalability also increases, thanks to the easier way of deploying, replicating, and destroying instances of a specific microservices app component in response to fluctuating demands on the system.
The process of upgrading and updating systems is simplified, because of the pluggable component-based architectures that offer the flexibility to add, remove, or upgrade individual services and features.
Highly-availability and fault-tolerance
A cloud enabled microservices-based system that integrates through APIs is highly available by design, and the ability to take processes offline due to the plug-and-play structure allows for easy fault isolation and correction.
Language and platform flexibility
The interface is designed to be platform and language agnostic, and it allows systems to integrate with a wide range of services.
Lower development costs
API-First paradigm simplifies addition of features or trialling new functionalities, and this cascades down to all aspects of development: from creating new features to resting them and rolling out, the interface allows for an approach that minimises impact on other modules.
Faster time to market
Quicker development times allow for quicker times to market, and a faster iterative process that can improve based on feedback.
Implementing an API-First Approach: best practices
The API-First paradigm is only an approach that can help teams reach their goals in an efficient way. The process works best when all stakeholders know what their part is, and how to execute it. Here are a few pointers that can make the process easy to adapt.
Collaborating with API Consumers and Stakeholders
Narrowing down on the stakeholders inside the organisation and the consumers of the API helps in finding out the path that will ease the use of API for stakeholders and consumers. Also, this will ensure unique use cases are addressed.
Coding ONLY AFTER identifying API Functions and Endpoints
Discussing the key functions and services that the API needs to expose is essential, especially before starting to code. Understanding the different use-cases for the API, confirming these with stakeholders, and determining the API end-points required to service those needs.
Setting the API guide
A common point of reference helps teams across the organisation use the same consistency and reusability standards for all APIs. The API status codes, error handling, versioning strategies, and other aspects of APIs can provide a decent amount of information that will allow for the next paradigm shift.
While it looks like a lot, there are many flavours of the API-First approach in the real world. Organisations can adopt these variations, based on the level they are in their transformation journey.
In the light of the current situation, it is safe to say that API-First paradigm is here to stay. While data is the new oil and AI/ML will increase the competitiveness of enterprises, a well thought-out digital backbone using API First approach can play a big role in maintaining the status quo of the new normal. Few well-planned exploratory discussions with the stakeholders can give a fair idea of the needs of the market, a better understanding of the process and the end goal.
Article Courtesy: NASSCOM Community – an open knowledge sharing platform for the Indian technology industry: