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Creating an API Economy Strategy

By Alan Glickenhouse posted Mon March 12, 2018 04:02 PM

The most frequent request I’ve been getting lately is “Help me build an API Economy Strategy”.  Quite a bit goes in to answering this and I struggled with how to address it in this short form blog format.  So, strategically (pun intended) I have been writing parts of the answer over the last several months.  This blog should help pull the pieces together, but you will have to follow the links to get all the details for many of the sections.

Thinking about what goes in to forming a strategy for any initiative, there are several key elements:

  • Establishing and prioritizing goals

  • Creating methods and procedures

  • Understanding organizational impact

  • Establishing appropriate governance

  • Understanding technical impact

  • Communication

  • Evaluating what is working and what is not / Vitality


Establishing and prioritizing goals

When I execute workshops with businesses, the first question I ask the participants is “why are you considering APIs?”.  Far too often I get blank stares and silence in return.  Paraphrasing the exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there.”  Establishing what you are trying to accomplish is the first step and critical to driving value from the initiative.  Some common goals for API initiatives include (and please see the links for details on each):

  • Time to Market (speed)

  • Reaching new clients / new markets (reach)

  • Enabling Innovation with less cost (innovation)

  • Sharing assets across the business (domains)

  • Increasing revenue (monetization and here)

  • Beating the competition or fending off competitive threats (competition)

Several of these goals may be desirable to your business.  Creating a prioritized list assists in driving many of the considerations that follow.


Creating methods and procedures

Once the goal(s) is identified, use cases are identified to achieve the goal.  I have observed 7 common use case categories and documented a methodology to identify good APIs in each category.  You can read about each of the categories and methodology by following each of these links: Mobile, Social, Data, Other (standards, regulatory requirements, sharing assets, etc.), Partner, Public, and IoT.  Also, I’ve documented sample use cases in each category for every industry.

Other methods and procedures (such as integrating into your DevOps process, security, and asset management controls) should also be defined.


Understanding organizational impact

For the initiative to be successful, new and modified roles need to be established and appropriate focus on organizational structure are needed.


Establishing appropriate governance

Governance should make it easy to do things the right way and hard to do things the wrong way! – one of my favorite statements.  Too many companies implement governance that just make it hard to do things in any way.  This is called bureaucracy, and is not what you want.  This is a huge and very important topic.  Please see – “Implementing Governance of an API initiative”.


Understanding technical impact

When talking to technical audiences, there are still questions on the difference between an API and a Service, or between API management and an ESB.  Clearly understanding when each should be use is a critical part in driving your technical strategy.  Please see the following:

Several of these also cover the positioning of Microservices (which is an application architecture, not integration architecture).


I strongly believe that business goals and requirements should drive architecture, not the other way around.  Business goals for Speed, Reach, Innovation, and Domains (see above) drive architectural considerations.  Please see the white paper, “Why Your Business Needs APIs (and Why Your APIs Need IBM API Connect) ” which drives from these business requirements into the architectural consideration.


Positioning API management, the API Gateway, and other components into the larger enterprise architecture is a key part of defining the technical part of your initiative strategy.



If you do everything else perfectly and you fail to communicate, you will not be successful.  “If you build it, they will come.” – simply does not work.  APIs need to be marketed to the target audiences.

  • Do lunch and learns for internals

  • Use your partner channel communications

  • Publicize external APIs on common sites (e.g. Programmable web).

  • Run Hackathons, attend/run API events

  • Communicate internally to executives the status of the initiative and the achievement toward the initiative goals.

Tailor the message to what the audience needs to know. You need to deliver a different message to executives and business than to developers.  Communication drives the value and helps keep the funding and growth of the initiative.  Assign owners for each audience and understand the type and frequency of communication required.


Evaluating what is working and what is not / Vitality

Establish meaningful measurable goals for “success” and gain executive agreement.  Some examples might be:

  • APP developer sign ups

  • API usage rates / rate of growth

  • Number of APPs driving usage of over xx transactions per time interval

  • Revenue generated

  • What data is being requested? What data is not being requested?

  • Are there usage patterns – dates, locations?

  • Are APP developers using multiple APIs?


Look at technical metrics too to see where improvement is required:

  • Are developers coming to the site and not signing up?

  • Are API calls coming back with errors?

  • Is performance acceptable?


Publish reports or make dashboards available to the appropriate audience for easy access to metrics


Don’t wait until you know all the answers and have everything in place to get started.  The market is moving too fast.  Plan stages for the roll out that build on what you learn.  Plan for change in your strategy, and keep iterating.  “Plan, Do, Check, Act” – repeat.


Finally, I leave you with one last link to the 7 biggest mistakes I see companies making with their API initiatives.  And, yes, not having a strategy is in the list.  You will also find not addressing many of the other items from this blog in the list as well.


To understand more about IBM’s thoughts on the API Economy visit the IBM API Economy website.  IBM API Connect is IBM’s complete foundation to Create, Run, Manage, and Secure APIs.  You can find more information about IBM API Connect at the API Connect website.  And you can also experience a trial version of API Connect.


If you have questions, please let me know.  Connect with me through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.