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API Governance Models in the Public and Private Sectors: Part 3

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API Governance Models in the Public and Private Sectors: Part 3

Join us as the API Evangelist, Kin Lane, shares a detailed report concerning the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and its wish to understand API governance.

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This is part three (you can find part two here) of an eight-part series on the Department of Veterans Affairs microconsulting project, “Governance Models in Public and Private Sector.” Providing an overview of API governance to help the VA, “understand, with the intention to adopt, best practices from the private and public sector, specifically for prioritizing APIs to build, standards to which to build APIs, and making the APIs usable by external consumers.” Pulling together several years of research conducted by industry analyst API Evangelist, as well as phone interviews with API practitioners from large enterprise organizations who are implementing API governance on the ground across the public and private sector, conducted by Skylight Digital.

We’ve assembled this report to reflect the interview conversations we had with leaders from the space, helping provide a walkthrough of the types of roles and software architecture being employed to implement governance at large organizations. Then, we walk through governance as it pertains to identifying possible APIs, developing standards around the delivery of APIs, how organizations are moving APIs into production, as well as presenting them to their consumers. Wrapping up with an overview of formal API governance details, as well as an acknowledgment that most API governance is rarely ever a fully formed initiative at this point in time. Providing a narrative for API governance, with a wealth of bulleted elements that can be considered, and assembled in the service of helping govern the API efforts across any large enterprise.

Identifying Potential APIs

Once the architectural foundations have been laid, there are many ways in which large enterprises begin identifying the potential APIs that should be designed, deployed, and evolved supporting the many applications that will be depending on the underlying platform architecture. Depending on the organization and it’s priorities, the reasons for how new APIs are born will vary, resulting in different lifecycles and resulting services being delivered across internal groups, partner stakeholders, and 3rd party developers.

Throughout this research, we identified that there is no single approach to identifying which APIs should be delivered, but we did work to understand a variety of approaches in use across the landscape, and by the practitioners interviewed for this project. Establishing some common areas for answering the questions around what should be an API, why are we doing APIs, leading us to the how of doing APIs, and uncovering the pragmatic reasoning behind web, mobile, device, and other applications that APIs are driving across the landscape.

Existing Realities

Our existing realities drive the need for APIs and reflect where we should be looking to provide new services for internal stakeholders, partners, and potentially as new revenue streams for 3rd party developers. While some APIs may be entirely new solutions, it is most likely that APIs will be born out of the realities we are already dealing with on a daily basis based upon the digital solutions we depend on each day. We identified the most common realities that enterprise groups face when it comes to their present-day digital transformation challenges.

  • Database — The existing databases in operation are the number one place groups are identifying potential resources for deployment of APIs. Exposing historically accumulated digital assets using the web and making them available for use in new applications, to partners, and driving new types of data products for generating the next generation of revenue streams.
  • Website — Our existing websites reflect the last 20 years of the digital evolution of our enterprises, representing the digital resources we’ve accumulated and identified as being important for sharing with partners and the public. HTML representations of our digital assets are always the 101 of API deployment and understand what should also be available as JSON and other more sophisticated representations.
  • Integrations — Existing software integrations and system-to-system integrations represent a rich area for understanding how digital resources are delivered, accessed, and made available throughout existing applications and systems. Providing an important landscape for mapping out when understand what should be turned into APIs, having a more consistent process applied, eliminating custom integrations, and standardizing how systems speak with one another.
  • Applications — Exiting web, mobile, desktop, and other applications can have a variety of backend system connectivity solutions but also might have a more custom, bespoke approach to doing APIs that is off the radar when it comes to governing how infrastructure evolves. Providing another rich area for mapping out the connections behind the common applications in use, understanding the internal, partner, and 3rd party APIs and other connections they use.
  • Services — APIs have been around for a while and exist in a variety of formats. Legacy web services, RPC, FTP, and other API and messaging formats should be mapped out and included as part of the potential API evolutionary landscape. Taking existing services and evolving them in a consistent manner with all other API-driven services, leveraging web technologies to consistently deliver and manage digital resources.
  • Spreadsheets — The majority of business in the world still happens within the spreadsheet. These portable data stores are emailed, shared, and spread around the enterprise and represent a rich source of information when it comes to understanding which resources should be published as APIs.

You can’t govern what isn’t mapped out and known. It becomes increasingly difficult to govern software infrastructure that exists across many open and proprietary formats and delivered as custom one-off solutions. Governance begins with a known landscape, and the greatest impedance to functional governance across organizations are the unknowns. Not knowing a solution exists or its architectural approach being something that isn’t part of the bigger picture, leaving it to be a lone actor in a larger landscape of known services operating in concert.

Public Presence

Another reason for having an open, very public approach to selecting, delivering, and operating software infrastructure is that it establishes a public presence across web properties, social networks, and other platforms where enterprise organizations can build community. There are a number of ways to identify potential new API resources by just being public, engaging with the community, and establishing API delivery life cycles that involve having a public presence.

  • User Requests — Actively soliciting web, mobile, and developer feedback both internally and externally is a great way to learn about potential new API resource opportunities. Leveraging existing users as a source of insight when it comes to what services would make applications better and demonstrating the importance of investing in an API literate user base.
  • Partner Requests — Actively working with partners, conducting regular meetings regarding digital assets and transformation, seeking feedback on what types of services would improve upon existing solutions, and strengthen partner relations. Investing in existing partners, and using them as a way to evolve the API roadmap and increase their dependency on enterprise resources.
  • Public Feedback — Engaging with the public via websites, social networks, forums, and at events, to understand what opportunities are out there when it comes to delivering new API resources. Tapping public awareness around specific topics, within particular domains, and considering suggestions for new APIs outside the enterprise firewall and the traditional box.
  • Media Coverage — Tuning on to popular tech blogs, mainstream media, and other public outlets to study and understand what opportunities are emerging for the delivery of new API services. Tuning into popular trends when it comes to what is happening with APIs, or business sectors that might not have caught up to some of the modern approaches to delivering APIs.
  • Feedback Loops — Cultivating trusted feedback loops with existing users, social networks, and private messaging platforms. Investing in long-term feedback loops that tap the knowledge and domain expertise of trusted professionals, who can bring fresh ideas to the table when it comes to which new APIs can benefit the enterprise.
  • Negative Consequences — One significant thing to note with having a public presence is that not everything will be positive. There are serious privacy, security, and safety concerns when operating your APIs out in the public, and there should be plenty of consideration for how to do it in a healthy way. Acknowledging that not everyone in the public domain will have the enterprise’s best interest in mind.

It isn’t easy soliciting feedback from the general public when it comes to determining the direction a platform roadmap should head. However, with some investment, curation, and cultivation, a more reliable source of insight regarding the direction of an API platform can be established. The API community across the public and private sectors have grown significantly over the last decade, providing a wealth of knowledge talent that can be tapped, if you know where to look for it.

Improvements

Moving beyond the “where to look for opportunities for APIs,” and moving into the why to find, as well as how to prioritize which resources should be turned into APIs, we hear a lot about investing in the overall improvement of the enterprise when it came to the motivations behind governance. Looking at many of the common incentives behind doing APIs, but also doing it in a more consistent and scalable way that supports the mission and forward motion of the enterprise.

  • Optimization — Seeking to optimize how applications are delivered, and services provided across teams. Providing consistent services that can be used across many internal groups, across partners, and that will improve the lives of 3rd party developers.
  • Common Patterns — Doing APIs, and pushing for governance to help identify common patterns across how software is designed, delivered, and managed. Working to extract the existing patterns in use, help standardize and establish the common patterns, and reinforce their usage across teams, and distributed groups.
  • Reusability — Encouraging reusability is the number one improvement we heard from different groups, and see across the landscape. Governing how software is not just delivered, but maximized, reused–ensuring the enterprise is maximizing software spend, as well as the revenue from the services it delivers.
  • Acceleration — Investing in governance to help accelerate how applications are delivered, measuring, standardizing, and optimizing along the way to improve existing efforts, as well as new projects on the horizon. Increasing the speed of not just new services, but how the services are able to be put to work by developers and integrators.
  • Efficiency — Setting into motion patterns and processes that increase overall efficiency around how services are delivered, and how they enable teams to deliver on new projects, applications, integrations. Allowing IT, developers, and business users to benefit from an API focus.
  • Flexibility — Increasing the flexibility of how applications operate, and teams are able to work together and deliver across the enterprise. Encouraging the design and development of APIs that work together, and flexibly achieve organizational objectives.

Providing a set of criteria that can be used to help prioritize which APIs get identified for delivery, and for evolution and versioning. If API resources help deliver on any of these areas, their benefit to the enterprise is increased, and it should be bumped up the list when looking for API opportunities. Always looking for how the enterprise can be improved upon, while also understanding which specific resources should be targeted for wrapping and exposing as simple web APIs that can be used for both internal and external use cases.

Challenges

The API journey is always full of challenges, and these areas of friction should be identified, and incorporated into the criteria for identifying new API solutions, as well as determining which APIs should be invested in and evolved. While some challenges can be minimized and overcome, many can also cause unnecessary friction throughout the API roadmap, making challenges something to be considered when putting together any API release strategy.

  • Education — What education is required when it comes to acquiring the resources behind any potential API, developing and standing up a proper API, as well as deploying, managing, and supporting an API. What challenges can be foreseen, and identified early on, helping weigh what investment in education, training, and learning along the API journey for any set of services.
  • Maturity — Understanding early on, and putting together a plan on what maturity will look like for any service, acknowledging that every service will begin in a juvenile state, and take time to harden, mature, and become something that is dependable, reliable, and usable in a production environment.
  • Isolation — Identifying resources that are being developed, maintained, and operated in isolation, and working to move them out into the mainstream. While also ensuring that any new services being developed avoid isolation, and are developed, evolved, and managed out in the open, ensuring that services never operate alone.
  • Management — Including management in discussions around which resources should be developed into APIs, including leadership in all conversations involving the targeting, evolution, and even deprecation of API services. Ensuring that the prioritization of API development is always on the radar of management, and there is a general awareness regarding the delivery of services.
  • Consistency — Realizing that while consistency is the goal, it may be an elusive, non-stop chase to actually realize consistency across teams. It should be a goal, but also realistically understanding that it won’t be easy to achieve, and while we want to strive for perfection, sometimes there will be good enough achieved for some services.
  • Reusability — Similar to consistency, reusability is an obvious goal and should be worked towards, but it will also be elusive, and not always reliably achieved over time. There might still be redundancy for some services, and overlapping aspects of delivering services, while some areas reusability will be achievable.
  • Build It And They Will Come — There has been a significant amount of reflection regarding targeting, developing, and publishing APIs that were not needed based upon an “if you build it, they will come” mentality–where most often, nobody came, and the work was in vain.

Challenges are a fact of life in the delivery of software and evolving complex systems using APIs. Identifying challenges should be a natural part of targeting resources for delivery as APIs. Challenges can increase fiction when delivering service and should be carefully evaluated before tackling the development of any new services. It is easy to identify the potential of new APIs, but it takes a more seasoned eye to understand potential challenges.

New ideas for APIs will become numerous once you begin looking. Based upon existing resources, applications, and the feedback of internal groups, partners, and the public. Along with all of the possibilities that come along, a standardized, pragmatic approach to understanding the potential, value, as well as challenges with each potential idea should be part of the equation.

Stay tuned for part four: Defining Data Models and Standards.

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