API Developer Outreach Research for the Department of Veterans Affairs: Part 6
Let's take a look at part six of this series on API developer outreach research. Explore the structuring and staffing of outreach programs.
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This is Part 6 (you can find Part 5 here) of a series on a write-up for research I conducted with my partner Skylight Digital. The team conducted a series of interviews with leading public and private sector API platforms regarding how they approached developer outreach, and then I wrote it up as a formal report, which the Skylight Digital team then edited and polished. We are looking to provide as much information as possible regarding how the VA and other federal agencies should consider crafting their API outreach efforts.
In the pages below, you will find a large number of specific suggestions culled from extensive interviews and our collective personal experience. All of these specific techniques are in service to the idea of designing the API program with the programmers who will use the API in mind at all times.
Structuring and Staffing Outreach Programs
Each platform will have its own mandate for how API programs should be staffed, but there are some common patterns that exist across the space.
What We Learned
The API providers we talked to had a lot to share about what it takes to staff their operations, including their structures (or in a few cases lack thereof!).
- Dedicated evangelist: Make sure there is a dedicated evangelist to help talk-up and support the platform.
- Include marketing: Include the marketing team in conversations around amplifying the platform and its presence.
- Provide support: Invest in the resources to support all aspects of the platform effectively, not just those that are consumer-facing or particularly visible.
- Conduct regular calls: Conduct regular calls with internal, partner, and external stakeholders in order to bring everyone together to discuss the progress of the platform.
- Use a CRM for automation: Put a CRM to use when it comes to tracking and automating outreach efforts for the platform. Do not reinvent the wheel; leverage an existing service to track all of the details that can be automated.
- Include other teams: Do not just invest in an isolated API team; make sure other teams across the organization are included in the API conversation.
- Develop an in-person presence: Make sure to obtain human resources that can be sent to meetups, conferences, and other in-person events so that the organization can expanding and strengthening the presence of the platform.
- Speak to leadership: Regularly invest time to report platform results and progress to leadership, making sure they understand the overall health and activity of the platform.
We learned that a dedicated evangelist is essential, as well as significant investments in marketing and support. It was good to hear how important in-person events were, supporting stakeholders and leadership when it came to overall outreach efforts. Overall, the conversation we had reflects what we have been seeing across the landscape with other public and private sector providers.
What Our Thoughts Are
Echoing what we heard from our conversations with API providers, we have some advice when it comes to structuring and allocating resources to API efforts. This is a tough area to generalize because different platforms will have different needs, but there are well-established traits of successful API providers, with the following characteristics making the top of the list.
- Dedicated program: Establish a formal program for overseeing API operations across an organization to make sure it gets the attention it needs.
- Dedicated team: Allocate a dedicated team to the API program and platform to represent its needs and push for its continued advancement.
- Business involvement: Make sure to involve business groups in the conversation, bringing them in as stakeholders to give their thoughts on the organization’s API program.
- Marketing involvement: Make sure marketing teams play an influential role in amplifying the message coming from a platform. This is especially important to ensure that a platform does not just speak to developers, but to consumers and users as well.
- Sales involvement: Ensure that a platform has the sales resources to actually close deals when necessary. This ensures that a platform has continuing end-user participation and the resources it needs to function. Remember, though, that sales is not always about selling commercial solutions.
- External users: Make a place for external actors to take part in advancing the API-relevance conversation. External users can often rise to highly influential levels within a community, and this influence can be put to work assisting with outreach efforts (but only if the culture of a platform allows for it).
- Contractors: Consider how vendors and contractors will be contributing to the overall outreach effort by creating a means for vendors to assist with logistics and communication channels, allowing the core team to focus on moving the platform forward while contractors tackle the details.
It will take dedicated resources to move the API conversation forward at a large organization. However, it will also take the involvement of other stakeholders to get the business and political capital to legitimately spark the platform initiative. How a program gets structured, and the number of resources dedicated to evangelism, communication, support, and other critical areas will set the tone for the platform and determine the overall health and viability of the API.
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