How to use APIs to accelerate your Digital Transformation

Written by

Hadrien van Durme, Jens Mortier

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You just got to the office and on the way, picked up a freshly brewed coffee, already glanced at today’s meetings hoping that you’ll have a moment to work on the Digital Transformation subject of your company.

While most of you are well versed in the subject, in this article I want to give a few tips and tricks on how you can accelerate your Digital Transformation initiatives by valorizing API Management.

Here’s an example of a difficult transformation: let’s say you have a paperless program for your customer’s billing. You want to convince your customers to switch from paper to digital. When checking the list of requirements, you see that you need: a stable CRM platform, a Document Management System (which you don’t have yet) and include the impact on the several teams at the IT department. A big chunk of the effort also has to be budgeted for the API management and connection of the different systems and platforms. Depending on where your company currently stands on API management, you might have quite a few roadblocks to overcome.

Establishing your API benchmark

In this article, I highlight a few possible scenarios of how API management is currently implemented at different companies. Every scenario will be explained in detail. As a first step, it’s your turn now to review how API management is currently implemented at your company and establish your API benchmark. I would suggest consulting with your colleagues to get a better idea. Once you’re aware of your API benckmark, you can focus on the best way to accelerate. The ultimate desirable outcome is to achieve an API subculture, we’ll be diving deeper into this subject later.

Finetune your benchmark

Mulesoft Connectivity Benchmark Report 2020

Retrieved from Mulesoft Connectivity Benchmark Report 2020

With every new project, roadmap, tender or crisis, an action plan is always the goto strategy to draft up the resolution and how to get there. With improving the API management quality at your company, we’re going to do exactly this.

By now, you have quickly focused your brain to the API management subject at your company and have more or less an idea of what the benchmark is. Let’s finetune this a bit with some metrics. In order to determine in which state your company currently resides, I’d suggest using the following approach: have a look at these different API characteristics and ask yourself how your company is scoring on each of these.

The characteristics in the chart on the left show how lean a company is when it comes to connecting its API portfolio with all the siloed data in order to turn their digital transformation into reality.

Mulesoft Connectivity Benchmark Report 2020

Retrieved from Mulesoft Connectivity Benchmark Report 2020

Using APIs to develop projects and integrations has enabled IT teams to realize a number of benefits across the business. Organizations are seeing an increase in:

  • productivity;
  • innovation;
  • agility;
  • and other benefits.

IT leaders reported in the MuleSoft benchmark report of 2020 that approximately 31% of their company’s revenue is generated from APIs (chart on the right).

How to improve on API management quality

After having analyzed the competition and how industry leaders are approaching API management, let’s dive into the details. Below in Figure 3, I have listed the different scenarios where you should now be able to pinpoint yourself. Depending on which benchmark you end up with, there are steps to take so you can get on to the next tier and improve your API management quality.

Benchmark “No API commitment”

For those who end up in this category, well, either you’re just getting started or you might have some existing integration, but it’s tucked away so far into the legacy systems that it’s not getting much attention because “it just works”.

The first step

Perhaps the most important one, is asking yourself the question “why do we need APIs?”. This is a great first exercise to conduct with the business department at your company and start the discussion.

It’s very important to have business buy-in. Otherwise, it will be another IT-only initiative and you won’t get the same traction.

With tech-only projects, as complex as they may be, reusability and new features won’t be as powerful if you don’t have your business department on board. The key concept is to have business understand key capabilities of integration and API management. This way, it can be used in the problem solving and ideation process.

Not sure how to explain this technical subject in layman’s terms? At Shape & Shift, we believe that by not just narrowing down the void between business and IT, every project can get more value, but over the years of expertise we’ve built a framework that can be used in our API introduction workshops for Business. This will enable your business department to be actively involved in working alongside every IT team at your company. Regardless of its technical complexity. The exercise will be in a workshop format where you have different participants list the current needs and problems of the company. Afterwards, each problem is analyzed and a possible solution through an API (or business service) is suggested.

The second step

You want to initiate the creation of an API integration knowledge center. This includes all the documentation and functional architecture related to integration, gathered and classified in its own dedicated section.

On the one hand, this will help to centralize the technical documentation to have a better idea about where the company currently stands on integration. By identifying the source of the integration code, we can highlight which developers currently have integration experience within the company. Some of the integrations at your company might be very unclear or have been lost during knowledge transfers or knowledge debt.

On the other hand, this API integration knowledge center will provide as much business value as possible. It needs to be understandable so anyone can consult it. You could compare the content to User Stories without too much technical jargon.

The third step

Launching a workgroup that is focused on identifying, modernizing and possibly creating new integrations within the company. This could be done by creating a team, consisting of:

  • an Enterprise Architect;
  • a lead developer that specializes in APIs or integrations;
  • an analyst;
  • an infrastructure manager.

We want to have several domains represented so that a detailed executive summary can be constructed in order to define the future technology used.

The workgroup should lock in about one hour every week into their calendar and work on drafting up the functional and technical needs of the API platform at the company.

Reports have to be clearly structured with agenda points discussed and a to do list of action points to be completed by the next meeting. This way, the workgroup lead can create an executive summary that you should be expecting after a few weeks.

Once the workgroup is taking shape, an information session has to be organized with all the members of the IT department within the company to explain what API management is. A perfect format for this could be a tech lunch.

Benchmark “APIs are part of the developer’s workload”

This is the situation where integration isn’t getting any particular attention but is just considered an aspect of the developer’s daily workload. This is not necessarily bad, but it will not help you in the long term. The reason is that when developers work secluded or the scope is limited to their own team, it does not foster reusability of existing assets.

One of the primary goals of integration, or more specifically, an API platform, is to enable everyone within IT and Business, to reuse existing assets

Unless your developers already use an API platform and are drilled rigorously to manage the portfolio of APIs, you should follow these steps to catapult your integration to the next tier.

The first step

Gather all the developers that have enough experience with integration and align common objectives. Once the developers have a clear picture of what the current to-do list for integration looks like, it would be recommended to initiate a new integration-specific project.

The second step

Identify which individuals should be part of this project. Ideally, you would be looking at dedicated resources that can spend 100% of their man hours on this topic. Before any work can start, there might be a need for training.

Following these steps will help you reach the next tier of having a dedicated API team at your company.

Benchmark “Dedicated API team”

IT Teams are currently spending 69% of their time keeping the lights on. No wonder that innovation remains low. If you already have a team that is fully committed to integration but their work mostly consists of maintenance then I’ve got some good tips that might help you with using that team to propel your digital transformation.

The first step

Check your digital strategy and make sure that the API topic gets its fair share of attention. The reason why this is important is covered in one of our Business Introduction to API presentations. API Strategies that are mandated by leadership drive the highest rates of productivity and innovation. These strategies can expand the integration skills to teams outside of IT. Organizations with a top-down API strategy are 67% more productive than those with a bottom-up strategy.

The second step

Check with your API team which services are currently being consumed within and outside of the company. What is the reusability-rate of these APIs? How many new demands come in every sprint? Are the demands mostly maintenance-related or are there also new initiatives? Start by mapping different KPIs to your API team in order to set a baseline that can be improved upon.

In parallel with this step, you are going to want to increase the API team’s visibility within the company. For this, you are going to organise different information sessions with the rest of IT, and preferably have some people from the business included too. The API team should be coached into presenting demo’s just like all other IT teams within the company. This can be achieved by linking the API case with the delivered business value. Not only will this help with promoting APIs company-wide, but it will also drive buy-in from the business.

What we’re trying to achieve here, is to start developing an API subculture within the organization that adopts APIs and business services so that enablement can be promoted. Today, it’s nearly impossible to launch new applications without the use of APIs. By creating this subculture, we can ensure a faster delivery of digital initiatives and catapult our roadmap to a success.

The API subculture in short

APIs should not be considered just a cog or seen as a technology at the company, it needs to be a subculture. Every technological and business initiative should start with these questions: do we already have something in place that we could use to ensure a fast time to market? What type of products do we want to deliver in this project? Is it going to be a customer facing solution or also a developer facing solution? This is where APIs will provide the necessary medium to translate that business and technological need.

Key Success Factors

Instead of just creating the dedicated API team, you are going to place an API transformation team that will work alongside it. The role of the API transformation team will be to convert the whole company into an API subculture. The reason why we suggest the idea of having this extra support component complementary to the API team, is that you want to have a closer link with business and c-level.

Often, an API team will mostly consist of Developers that are very technical, an Analyst that is well versed in anything integration, a Product Owner and a Project Manager. A less traditional approach is to add someone that can take the role of the API Transformation Lead. This role will help streamline the transformation project across the entire organization.

The key responsibilities of this person include:

  • Assessing the integration capabilities.
  • Establishing the API transformation program.
  • Building and publishing foundational assets and processes within the API integration knowledge platform.
  • Evangelize.
  • Drive consumption and measure the impact of the API transformation through the use of KPIs.
  • Cover enterprise-wide projects.

Every new initiative should not only be consulted with the Enterprise Architect, but also with the API Transformation Lead. This way, we can ensure a consistent approach to using the API platform.

Only by having everyone on board can something like this be achieved. In the words of Jeff Bezos:

“All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces, anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.”

— Jeff Bezos


Gepubliceerd door

Hadrien van Durme

Hadrien combines to roles as Project Manager and Business Innovation Analyst at Shape & Shift. He kicked-off his career by creating a startup in the IoT industry, called Eden Synthetics. After his debut in the start-up world, he continued three years later in consulting. Nowadays he specializes in Digital Transformation projects in general and API driven transformation more specifically.

Jens Mortier

Jens Mortier is a Business Innovation Analyst and Managing Partner at Shape & Shift. In his role as Business Innovation Analyst, he mainly works on fintech corporate startup projects. Jens gets challenged by bridging the gap between a complex business context and human-centric innovation. He therefore specialised in projects where business, technology and digital innovation meet.

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