Few software pros think of APIs as simple connectors in their software environments. Instead, as the API management platform market matures, organizations are crafting holistic enterprise API strategies. The stage is set in 2018 for businesses to optimize API strategies to improve customer engagement and hybrid integration capabilities, according to Carl Lehmann, principal analyst at 451 Research.
"The capabilities needed to create a holistic API strategy for companies trying to win with software [are] now available," Lehmann said. "Those who do will be finding it easier to do new things, like rolling out IoT [internet of things] devices or creating voice interfaces for new devices, like the Amazon Alexa," Lehmann said. Managed strategically, APIs can provide the baseline for increasing agility.
A holistic API strategy will optimize an organization's legacy holdings of decades of data and applications to deliver better ways of engaging with customers, said Jaime Ryan, senior director of product management at CA Technologies. "APIs are not what people are looking for in the end. They're looking for the applications," Ryan said. "The more you can think holistically about the consumption side of the API and how you're building applications on top of this, the more you can think about the underlying implementation of the back end and really how to string that together the best way possible."
API management platform plus iPaaS
Several large vendors have acquired leading independent software vendors focused on API management over the past few years, including Red Hat's acquisition of 3scale, Google's purchase of Apigee and Talend's recent acquisition of Restlet.
These couplings were driven, in part, by businesses' need for hybrid cloud integration platforms. Hybrid integration capabilities help businesses integrate data and applications across diverse and distributed cloud infrastructures. These integration platform as a service (iPaaS) offerings enable mass data management integration and big data analytics with data mapping and event management. API management adds capabilities in message queueing and even, in some cases, extract, transform and load.
Carl LehmannPrincipal analyst, 451 Research
"API management is a big deal for iPaaS, because it makes a hybrid integration platform smarter," Lehmann said.
Consider that APIs are used for request-response activities across varied sources and targets, and they demand access to different sources and targets. They also demand certain types of data from those sources to those targets. Depending on the specific calls, the frequency of those calls and data type used, this API activity affects the infrastructure. "Without API management in place, you can set up an API, and it can overrun your infrastructure if too many mobile apps access it without preparing for the volume that you realize," Lehmann said.
API management is critical in handling metadata, Lehmann said. Data about API responses, requests, transactions and performance help improve the performance of the system and extract knowledge from data payloads. Building out API management tools to enable performance management capabilities helps metadata get smarter about what's going on in integration. "That capability can feed creation of AI and machine learning tools for multiple purposes," Lehmann said.
No API is an island
Today, it's common for a large business's API portfolio to include hundreds or thousands of APIs, Ryan said. To get business value from that portfolio, organizations must automate API processes in a framework that provides a cohesive end-to-end experience for creation, development, testing, publishing and retirement. In recent years, this business need has spurred vendors to create full lifecycle API management platforms. That need is so great that 451 Research's Lehmann projected a surge in API management platform adoption for 2018.
A lifecycle API management platform helps businesses consolidate their public and private API processes and strategies, according to Steve Willmott, senior director of API infrastructure at Red Hat. Today, many organizations manage public and private APIs separately. "Now, both need to connect." Engineering leaders want to use the same tools and practices in both places, he said.
Awareness of the availability of the full-lifecycle API management platform was not high in 2017 but will grow in 2018, Willmott said. "I rarely see a customer come and say, 'We want full-lifecycle API management,'" he said. Instead, customers normally provide a list of capabilities they need, such as automation and management capabilities for APIs from design through implementation, iterations and retirement. They want frameworks for APIs that are similar to those used for infrastructure and application management. This doesn't require buying a platform, but it does require a uniform set of tools, he said.
More API trends for 2018
While API management in iPaaS and lifecycle API management should be on DevOps teams' evaluation agenda this year, experts see plenty of other API strategies to explore. These include:
- The era of the API specialist or API product manager has arrived, experts said. One function of API product managers is to ensure that APIs are meeting the broader needs of the business.
- The Open API Initiative (OAI) has emerged as the winning standard for REST interfaces, and probably others. The industry's support for OAI is a huge opportunity for businesses, Willmott said. "It means that different tools could interoperate much better in the customer environment," he said.
- The inclusion of microservices management capabilities in API management platforms will speed the maturation of the former, Lehmann said. Capabilities evolving in this area include API and microservices orchestration via API gateways or microservice gateways, he said.
Overall, these experts agreed, the acceptance of the open API standard and maturing API technologies -- such as iPaaS and lifecycle management platforms -- will help businesses craft comprehensive API strategies in 2018.