The building blocks of API management

Update: I was joined by some great panelists yesterday. Very nice and interesting to also experience the growth of the Internet of Things!


I’ve been invited back to speak at the Apps World North America conference, happening May 12-13 at Moscone West in San Francisco, CA. This is a great conference, with a focus on mobile apps. I’m looking forward to networking and sharing my own expertise and experiences integrating, building, launching and managing APIs the last 6 years.

The developer conference & exhibition provides two days of high level insight and discussion around a massive and ever-growing industry - mobile apps. Expected to attend are some 10,000 developers, mobile marketers, mobile operators, device manufacturers, platform owners and industry professionals.

The conference features 11 different targeted workshop tracks, speed networking, one to one meetings, parties and includes 6 free to attend developer workshop tracks and a free exhibition with over 350 exhibitors. I’ll be speaking as part of the paid track on API Strategies.

Here are some of the API topics that I and the other panelist have been asked to cover:

  • What are the critical building blocks of API management?
  • What are useful tools & techniques to manage multiple APIs for your business?
  • How do you successfully manage your technical API interface?
  • How do you achieve seamless integration with enterprise systems?
  • Exploring the importance of Quality API Documentation
  • Tips and trick to manage your community (via blogs, forums, support desks etc.)
  • Monitoring the lifecycle of your API and assessing its effectiveness

And here is a teaser and my brief take on some of these topics.

Critical building blocks of API management

There are many building blocks to necessary to successfully managing an API. Here are what I consider the top 5.

  • Technical Documentation and Developer Guides - devs need to know what your API is capable of doing and how to use it.
  • Security and Authentication - without properly securing your API, you’re putting other parts of business at risk
  • Access Control - what developers should have access to which endpoints and how much access should they have?
  • Sandbox or Test Environments - give partners the chance to kick the tires and test their applications without the concern over disrupting the production environment
  • Management UI, incl Reporting and Analytics - give yourself the tools, metrics and intelligence to make great API product decisions. Don’t fly blind and bind yourself to others.

Tools and techniques to manage multiple APIs:

  • API Gateway and Management software, like Apigee (free to try), Mashery, Layer7 and WSO2 (open source)
  • New Relic, Splunk and other reporting and analytics tools
  • Developer onboarding, technical and self-help documentation, using tools like Get Satisfaction and uservoice
  • Documentation tools like I/O Docs and Swagger UI
  • Data visualization tools Stashboard and Graphite

The importance of Quality API Documentation and tips and trick to manage your community (via blogs, forums, support desks etc.)

Developers hate documentation that is either poorly written, incomplete, not reflective of the actual interface or just plain non-existent. You want your developer partners to be successful, so set them up with the right tools for success. This starts with great documentation.

Quality API documentation means:

  • Less time answering emails, phone calls and having to explain how your API works
  • Faster integration timelines
  • Lower chance of developers abandoning an integration effort with your API
  • Happier partners
  • Developer partners have greater confidence in your product
  • Opportunities for more fruitful partnership discussions

Consider documentation-driven design for your API, where you use a common template to design the API. After settling on the design, you have the basis for your API documentation once you’re ready for client developers to integrate.

Monitoring the lifecycle of your API and assessing its effectiveness

Defining success and performance metrics for your API should be approached with the same objectives in mind as when defining KPIs and performance dashboards for any other web-based product. Aside from the standard API tracking metrics (requests, error rates, response time), make sure to set API KPIs (key “API” performance indicators) too.

Examples of assessing API program effectiveness:

  • Measure developer success and effectiveness - who are your best developers? How much revenue do they generate for your app or business?
  • Align your API metrics with your business KPIs - make sure your API metrics align with the overall goals for the business. Example: for an eCommerce API, treat the API like any other sales channel, where orders, new customer, revenue and other KPIs would be tracked.
  • Create dashboards for different audiences - for the Operations team, create a dashboard that focuses on uptime, error rates and other technical performance metrics. For the CPO, create a dashboard that focuses on revenue, application usage and developer engagement.
  • Create a KPI that shows the API “sales” funnel - how are devs finding you? How are they converting into users of the API? What are the most valuable partners?
  • Track metrics for each key persona for your API product - App User → App → App Developer → API → API owner
  • Don’t forget API-specific metrics - tracking things like developer onboarding time, endpoint usage and performance can help inform your API product roadmap

Helpful reading:

Kin Lane (@kinlane) - http://management.apievangelist.com/building-blocks.html
John Musser (@johnmusser) - http://www.slideshare.net/jmusser/kpis-for-apis

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