API project planning: Steps to add value in data, app integration

API projects can be less than successful if proper planning isn't performed, according to experts.

While many organizations still keep data on-premises, many are also answering the siren's call to move data and...

applications to the cloud. In this scenario, data needs to move through various systems, and that is where application programming interfaces (APIs) can step in.

APIs aid in integration and interoperability because they act as a uniform space, allowing for communication between new and legacy systems. Poorly planned data and application integration and interoperability projects, however, stymie data flow and don't meet business needs.

"Clearly defined APIs and clearly defined services help reduce 'spaghetti' code and allow for loose coupling across different components, improving interoperability," said James Governor, industry analyst at RedMonk.

Rushing into development without cross-team planning is the cause of most integration and API project failures, according to Governor and experts, as well as the recent MuleSoft 2013 Global Mobile, API and SaaS Enterprise Adoption Survey. In the latter, 300 IT workers also said they have either started or "felt strongly" that their organization should start to include an API strategy as part of its IT strategy. That plan should include collaboration between business, IT, development and users.

An organization's goals must come first in designing API implementations, said MuleSoft Founder and Vice President of Product Strategy Ross Mason. Failure to plan ahead has resulted or can result in wasted time and money.

"Even just a few years ago, developers were being asked to build APIs without having a good context of the business problem they were trying to solve," Mason said. "Before you write a line of code and get developers thinking about how to actually build the API, there is a planning phase. Many organizations still miss this planning phase of understanding [that] the longer-term strategy is for the API."

The business plan has to precede the technology project, Mason said. With the plan as a baseline, technology decisions -- such as building versus sourcing an API -- can be honed to deliver the right product. "The API is really a product: a product you are giving to third parties to access your information," he said.

The API is really a product: a product you are giving to third parties to access your information.
Ross Masonfounder and vice president of product strategy, MuleSoft

Business and technology leaders should work together to determine the product goals for API-based projects. Sometimes organizations fail to keep everyone, from developers to partners, engaged in the project, said Evgeny Popov, CEO and co-founder of Apiphany, an API management and delivery platform company in Washington, D.C. If internal teams don't collaborate, the result is a product no one will use, largely because they don't understand it or there is a lack of support from one disenfranchised part of the business. "I've seen a lot of companies spend years thinking about and building an API, and then it doesn't work [properly]," he said.

Popov recommends a step-by-step, iterative approach to implementing an API strategy, so modifications and direction changes can be made before a final product is delivered.

There are several key features to keep in mind when making API decisions, such as the following:

  • Design
  • Security
  • Availability of analytics data
  • Scalability

Scalability is particularly important, Popov said, because "when you pick the tool, you want to make sure it will not be a bottleneck in your API infrastructure."

While there isn't a 100% surefire way to avoid snags that may arise during the implementation of an API strategy, keeping these considerations in mind will help prevent an API project from becoming completely derailed.

About the author:
Maxine Giza is the associate site editor for SearchSOA.com and can be reached at
[email protected].

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