[Q&A] Launching an Enterprise API Platform: A Conversation with Executive API Consultant, James Higginbotham

  May 02, 2018

“Moving to an API platform requires maturing your API program, shifting to a product-based mindset, and communicating both internally and to partners on how the API platform continues to grow and improve. Without an outside-in mindset, organizations fail to develop the kind of healthy API program that is required to make the jump to a platform-based approach.”

This is just one of the valuable insights shared by James Higginbotham, executive API consultant, LaunchAny, when he joined us for a special presentation: Lessons in Transforming the Enterprise to an API Platform.

During the hour-long session, James shared his insights from working with enterprise organizations across a variety of industries to transform, launch, and scale their API programs.

Following the session, I had the chance to sit down with James to discuss some of the takeaways from the session, and to get his advice for teams that want to put the lessons covered in the training into action.

You can read our full conversation below.

I know you have a lengthy career in software consulting, could you tell me a little more about what you do at LaunchAny? What type of companies do you work with? What challenges to help them solve?

My focus is on helping organizations define, evangelize, and execute their enterprise platform strategy across both business and IT. This typically involves the development and execution of an API strategy and program, delivery of onsite API and microservice workshops across a number of technical and non-technical roles, and development of new and modified processes that drive API creation, discovery, and adoption.

We have engaged with organizations across a number of verticals, including: finance/banking, commercial insurance, healthcare, airline, supply chain, and hospitality. Our customers are world-wide and typically reflect an IT group from 100s to 1,000s of developers. We have also assisted small-to-mid-size SaaS companies with their API strategy.

In the webinar, you shared lessons you’ve learned from working with enterprise organizations in the process of transitioning to an API platform. Are there specific trends you’ve noticed within large organizations making this transformation?

Most organizations embarking on an API platform seek to mature their API program. Some of these organizations realize that having an API management layer and a few tools to support internal processes is only the first step in establishing a healthy API-centric approach.

Moving to an API platform also requires an outside-in mindset by shifting to a product-based mindset and communicating both internally and to partners on how the API platform continues to grow and improve. Without an outside-in mindset, organizations fail to develop the kind of healthy API program that is required to make the jump to a platform-based approach.

Why do you see enterprise organizations making this shift to an API platform? What are the benefits you’ve seen?

Most organizations shift to an API platform to better meet the needs of their partners and customers at a much greater scale than through customized, one-to-one integrations common with SOA. By shifting to a more sustainable and scalable platform-based approach, their partners and internal developers are able to quickly build on top of the business and technical capabilities of the organization. Organizations are then able to better address changing market needs at a much faster velocity rather than resting on yesterday’s market requirements.

I know you’ve published multiple books about API design, what does good API design mean to you? Are there common mistakes you’ve seen when it comes to designing APIs?

Good API design means that the API portfolio meets the needs of stakeholders by offering capabilities that result in outcomes, rather than purely data access APIs. Organizations that strictly build APIs to surface internal data often make the integration process more difficult, as the years of technical debt are externalized for API consumers to overcome. Their “dirty laundry” of shortcuts is forced onto every developer integrating their API.

Organizations must strive to design great APIs that make it easy for developers to understand and integrate quickly to solve problems.  This kind of focus will accelerate the developer effort and meet the needs of their partners, internal developers, and customers. High-performing API programs have a built-in design review process to drive consistency across the portfolio and act as an advocate for current and future API consumers.

The concept of an “API Product Strategy” seems to be a newer topic that is gaining traction, what does it mean to treat APIs as products? And why is it important to think of APIs as products?

While APIs are often thought of as purely a concern of the IT group, they actually intersect three critical areas: the business, product, and technology. As such, we must involve everyone across the organization to both own the APIs that the organization offers, as well as continue to mature them over time. APIs require more than a short-lived project with a limited budget.

To build and maintain a successful API program, APIs must continue to meet the needs of their stakeholders. This requires technical product managers that are able to continually communicate with these internal and external stakeholders to ensure that their APIs evolve over time.

What can an organization do to make sure their API program is successful long term?

As you may have realized, my answers to your previous questions demonstrate that launching an API program requires proper coordination. As a result, we’ve seen organizations moving to a more federated approach to their API governance and API center of excellence. This helps the organization establish a centralized body that oversees core standards, while allowing independent teams across IT and business build and integrate APIs with confidence.

This, combined with a great training program, can help to equip organizations in managing and growing their API portfolio effectively. The result is a healthy API platform that evolves based on internal and market needs.

Lessons Learned from Transforming the Enterprise to an API Platform

Watch the recording of James’ full presentation here. When you’re ready to put these lessons to work, SwaggerHub provides one platform for your team to collaborate and scale your API development.

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