API Governance Models in the Public and Private Sectors: Part 7
API Governance Models in the Public and Private Sectors: Part 7
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 seven (you can find part six 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.
Realizing API Governance
Everything covered so far in this document feeds into what should be considered as part of the overall governance of an API platform, but focuses on the actual delivery of APIs. This is the section where we look at what is needed specifically for governance and what teams are doing to invest in the governance of APIs across their teams, projects, and the lifecycle of their operations. There are a number of areas we identified that were relevant for groups who are actively realizing governance across their operations.
One key component of API governance at enterprise organizations who have been doing it a while and have made a significant investment in their efforts, is the presence of organized structure and teams dedicated to advancing governance across the enterprise. While these organizational structures are often defined by many different names, they have some common elements worth noting.
- Organization — Establishing a formal organization within the enterprise that is dedicated to API infrastructure and developing a structured approach to governance and the shared strategy across all teams.
- Core Team — Beginning with a small, focused, core team within the API strategy and governance, then expanding and growing as it makes sense, and based upon the expansion across the larger enterprise.
- Enablement Team — Providing an enablement team that can go out and work with individual teams to help enable them to realize healthier API lifecycle practices, and achieve governance objectives.
- Advisory Board — Developing an advisory board of internal, and possibly external individuals who can provide regular feedback on the API strategy, and help move forward the governance conversation.
- Legacy Teams — Involving legacy teams in the central API strategy and governance team to make sure the legacy of the enterprise is reflected and understood as efforts evolve and move forward
There were many variations in how enterprise organizations are organizing their API teams, some with more of a centralized approach, with others possessing a decentralized, and more organic feel. Some come straight out of CIO and CTO groups, where others were more bottom-up, organically grown efforts, reflecting the tone of the conversation occurring at different types of enterprise organizations.
While there were a number of approaches used to organize and execute on the API governance vision across different enterprises, there were some common approaches and advice regarding how to do it in a pragmatic way. Providing some key elements to consider as organizations think about forming their own strategy, and putting it into motion at their own enterprise organizations.
- Start Simple — Keeping things as simple as possible when getting going. Not trying to bite off more than you can chew, and be overpromising to the organization. Start with the basics, get involvement and buy-in, then move forward in a logical fashion.
- Not Heavy Handed — Refrain from being heavy handed with governance policing and enforcement. It is repeatedly stated that heavy-handed efforts get an overwhelming amount of pushback, and can set back efforts significantly.
- Inline Defined — Provide guidance, education, and artifacts inline. Do not expect people to read governance guides, and understand what is going on from the start. Feed them information on a regular basis through the channels they are already tuned into include corporate communication channels, their integrated development environments (IDE), and other existing entry points people will stay tuned on.
- Having A Mandate — Think deeply about having a mandate regarding governance. Some people think it is better stated as a mission, rather than a mandate. Considering the negative impact a mandate might have when it comes to adoption and participation.
- Select Enforcement — Be creative in how you enforce governance across operations. Be very selective about where you enforce and push back on users. Finding inspiring, and motivational ways to enforce governance, being more carrot than stick.
- Build Community — Working to build a community around the API strategy and governance organization, building relationships across teams, recruiting advocates, and working to train and education on a regular basis.
- Evangelism — Spending a significant amount of time reaching out to internal stakeholders, partner contacts, also the public when it makes sense, but most importantly, always be evangelizing to management and leadership.
Moving beyond just a group of people in name only and having a structured and planned approach to executing on the API governance across an organization on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Establishing a deliberate tone to the API governance effort, measuring its impact across groups, and adjusting and evolving as required. Developing a strong voice, and measured approach over time, while understanding what works, and what doesn’t work-being agile and flexible in how APIs are governed.
Building upon the technological layers present in every previous section of this report, we wanted to take another look at how technology is used specifically for defining, measuring, and reporting on governance efforts. Tracking on the specific technological solutions that enterprise groups are using to understand, as well as enforce the governance strategy on the ground, in real time.
- Definitions — Use OpenAPI, Postman Collections, JSON Schema, and other machine-readable artifacts available for all stages of the API lifecycle to quantify, measure, and report on how well governance efforts are being realized.
- Management — The API management layer provides a number of features that help apply policies, rate limit, log, and track on what is happening with all APIs. Primarily used to understand consumer behavior, but can also be used to understand provider, publisher, and developer behavior as well.
- Gateway — Providing the single point of entry for all services, allowing for transformation, translation, as well as all the features brought to the table by API management solutions. Providing the perfect opportunity to enforce, as well as measure how well governance is being applied across the organization.
- Logging — Logs shipped centrally will be the most important way that governance efforts measures and reports on what is happening across the enterprise platform. Without a central logging strategy, governance will be flying blind, unable to see into all the services it is supposed to be governing.
- Monitoring — Making the monitoring of ALL services the default. Tracking all services from multiple regions, and understanding if they are meeting internal or external SLAs. Providing a key benchmark for whether governance is being effective across services.
- Testing — Getting much more granular and making sure that APIs are doing what they should. Taking plain business assertions, and testing them against APIs using machine-defined tests that can be executed in real-time, and on a schedule.
- Security — Gathering as much data as possible about how security is being handled, and the results of scanning, monitoring, logging, and authentication around security checkpoints.
- Reporting — Leverage management, gateway, monitoring, testing and other technology to produce reports on how well governance benchmarks are being met. Allowing the technology to do the measurement and enforcement, as well as reporting of the numbers that can be aggregated into a single set of reports to understand the impact of governance efforts.
When making a decision on what technology to use as part of the delivery of API infrastructure, it’s role in the wider governance strategy should be considered. Having services and tooling inline, that can help execute and report upon governance efforts is an important aspect of being able to move forward a governance program across the enterprise. Built-in governance is much more likely to be leveraged than externally mandated tracking and reporting.
Every organization we talked to shared their frustrations and stories around the challenges they’ve faced. Many of these have been shared as part of the specific section above, but we wanted to focus on the challenges with actually implementing governance itself, and look at some of the solutions groups have found for working around challenges and roadblocks.
- Co-Creation — Isolated API governance organizations stayed isolated, and groups who co-created the strategy with other teams, and worked to share ownership over the strategy, execution, and road map had much better success meeting their objectives.
- Buy-In — Getting buy-in from teams is difficult, and many have spoken of the challenges getting buy-in to the need for a centralized, or even distributed governance approach. Making it difficult to move forward when you don’t have the buy-in of some groups or management.
- Standards — While many agreed standards were good, actually getting people on the ground to adopt, use, and realize the benefits of standards across all stops along the API lifecycle has proven elusive.
- Artifacts — There just wasn’t agreement that definitive governance artifacts like guides, prototypes, and other common solutions were necessary. Some teams just disregard these artifacts, questioning the investment of time and energy to create. While others felt strongly that they were necessary to lead by example.
- Difficult Process — Over and over, API teams express that governance, and pushing for consistency across the API lifecycle was a difficult process. It sounds easy when you plan the strategy, but actually doing it on the ground never works out as you envision.
- Refine Process — You will be constantly refining your governance strategy, adjusting, removing, tweaking, and shifting the approach until you find solutions to incremental aspects of delivering APIs.
- Takes Time — All of this will take time. Be patient. Play the long game. Understand it will take much longer than you expected to see the change you envision.
There will be more challenges along the way than there will be wins when it comes to governance of vast, complex API infrastructure. Challenges, roadblocks, and friction will exist at all stages of standardizing how APIs are delivered across the enterprise. Dealing with failure and recognizing challenges and the potential for them to be a roadblock is important to be able to keep moving forward at any pace.
Stay tuned for the final part: The Road to API Governance.
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