Rob Zazueta, Global Director of Digital Strategy at TIBCO Software, shares his thoughts on the effect of APIs in 2017.
It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of the API space during the past decade. What started as an experiment for companies seeking to hack their growth has become a core piece of functionality that fueled rapid mobile adoption, enabled a whole new class of strategic partnerships, and continues to drive us toward a hyperconnected, hyper-personalized future.
APIs have always encompassed and crossed a number of different technologies. In the coming year, we'll see a convergence of these technologies that enterprises can leverage to grow their business and prepare themselves to more rapidly strike at new opportunities as they appear. 2017 is the year APIs help complete the transformation of organizations into truly digital enterprises.
- APIs Move to the Core While Serving the Edge
For years, companies have treated APIs as products, complete with their own distinct marketing and separate engineering and product management teams. As distributed computing and IT systems have evolved, so has the role of APIs. So much so that they are now core to the digital transformation that businesses are undergoing. Just as connected systems have been set free from the data center, so must web services be ready to be exposed securely and consistently to the universe of applications that need to consume them. APIs will be more visible to the enterprise than ever, but they will no longer exist in a separate realm and will instead increasingly be at the core of IT moving forward, forming a platform upon which all new development will occur.
- Lines of Business Take Stronger Ownership of Edge Development
Just as your data will extend outside the IT organization, so will engineering responsibilities. We've seen a rise in engineering and development activities happening outside of the traditional engineering-focused organizations. This has been especially true in marketing departments, where teams now recruit marketing technologists or rely heavily on third-party development agencies to create applications for both internal and external customers.
Marketers are increasing their reliance on data to drive activities that deliver real, measurable results. This has also resulted in an increased adoption of so-called "shadow IT" activities — using applications, usually available in the cloud, that are outside the purview of a company’s IT organization. At the same time, companies are recognizing the value in creating unique, customer-facing experiences through mobile, web, and device interfaces that help grow the business, but are not considered core to IT's mission.
- IT Must Shift from Gatekeepers to Services Organization
Rather than fight these moves or try to take ownership of them, IT departments should embrace this as a way to reduce technical debt, focus on their core development activities, and allow subject matter experts to stay closer to the creation of edge technologies and ensure they're effectively addressing customer needs. This role-reversal requires a fundamental shift in the way IT interacts with the rest of the organization.
The lines of business often have long developed resentments about working with IT, whom they see as the gatekeepers to the technology they need. Meanwhile, IT has always been frustrated by having their focus taken from developing core products and supporting the enterprise as a whole. A more flexible and expansive “team” mentality is required to function in the digital enterprise. IT needs to open access to the data they control through consistent programming interfaces that allow for more rapid core development, while also easily and securely providing access for their internal business customers. IT's role, more than ever, is to become a service-focused organization, granting access to the right data for the right people at the right time while keeping their eye on the core systems and infrastructure.
- API Management Rises to the Occasion
The beauty of good APIs is that they are self-contained, stateless, and designed to address a large number of known and yet-to-be known use cases. So, it should come as no surprise that the popularity of microservice architectures will only continue to grow. As these microservices proliferate, service governance will become even more critical. The clunky SOA gateway technologies of the past are not up to the task of handling this level of interaction and orchestration at web scale.
API management platforms originally arose simply to help scale, secure, and support API programs. But we've already seen them adapt to the new world by also providing routing, service transformation, and tighter user security. These platforms will increasingly become a critical to the DevOps process for microservice development, testing, and release, providing a single source for all API information regardless of where the back-end services originate.
- API Tooling Must Integrate with DevOps
Gone are the days of release and pray. As more departments and developers make use of each other’s APIs, it becomes essential to ensure that underlying changes do not impact existing API consumers. Microservice architectures allow multiple teams to release according to their own schedules, so automated testing, configuration, and documentation of these services will need to adapt to get out of their way.
The Open API Initiative is rapidly expanding its mandate to the point where it will become the lingua franca of web services. Formerly called known as Swagger, the OAI’s original purpose was to describe RESTful APIs for interactive documentation. But those same descriptions can also be used to build automated testing scripts, configure API management settings, and communicate the availability of services to other applications within the system.
While your API management platform may store these descriptions internally as a single document — similar to how SOAP services were described using a WSDL — microservices will increasingly be responsible for hosting and responding with their own individual descriptions. Management platforms, automated testing systems, and even applications will be able to query for these descriptions to automate deployment, testing, and development.
Web service APIs are quickly transforming into the sine qua non of modern distributed architecture. By the end of 2017, APIs as we know them will likely disappear into the background. The hype cycle will have long passed and, though they will be ubiquitous, enterprises will likely view them for what they really are — an efficient, scalable, and foundational means of supporting new technologies to meet the increasing demands of connected customers.