Why have APIs proven to be such a powerful catalyst for digital transformation? The answer lies in the API ecosystem, which encourages API providers and consumers to collaborate in order to deliver previously unimaginable customer experiences. The ability to build APIs on top of other APIs leads to a rapid proliferation of capability that is just not possible in the physical economy. The health of your API ecosystem — the value your APIs offer to developers inside and outside your organization — thus becomes critical to the success of your digital strategy.
“Engage the ecosystem” is the fourth and final pillar of MuleSoft’s API strategy blueprint. It requires organizations to think of their APIs as products and to invest in activities that get them into the hands of consumers — especially developers — with the least amount of friction possible. This means treating APIs as if they were some of your organization’s most important offerings, providing API developer registration, documentation, consoles, sandboxes, mocking services, and sample code. It also means employing design thinking to understand API users and to dig deeper into solving problems on their behalf.
Before you launch an API, you will want to have a very clear idea of your business model. What are you delivering that amplifies your business and what are you delivering that enhances your customers’ business? If the target users of the API are not realizing an exchange of value that is equal or above the effort it will require to learn about and adopt the API, not to mention the usage fees, they are unlikely to become customers.
Thinking of an API as a product also requires being deliberate about the product life cycle. What is the useful life of each API? How should an API evolve? When should an API be retired?
Promoting an API is the first step in cultivating its ecosystem. Offering a well-designed developer portal stocked with high-quality API documentation and productivity tools is essential. But you should also think beyond the portal’s web address. Whether your target audience consists of a single constituency or a group of constituencies, you will want to reach them through their communication channel of choice. If your users are internal developers, this may be a Slack channel or a Google Group. Connecting with external developers may require more traditional marketing campaigns. Or, as Uber, showed, it may be possible to use a popular third-party platform.
Instead of building its own customer support forums and hosting them on Uber.com, Uber showed up to answer questions posed by external developers on StackOverflow.com. As Uber’s community on StackOverflow grew, it became self-sustaining. Members of StackOverflow who didn’t work for Uber itself responded to questions about the Uber API. Uber rewarded these volunteer mentors with swag to encourage goodwill.
External developers who use your API are not only your most effective evangelists, they are also your best product designers. As they explore different use cases, they will discover ways an API can be improved to enhance their experience and, in all probability, increase their usage. Encourage their feedback. This is where 1 + 1 starts to equal 3.
Researchers at Gartner often talk about the co-creation of value. Listening to your users will help you continue to reimagine the customer experience. Then, looking down the value chain, you can identify how you can combine the services offered by other best-of-breed API providers with your own services. Providing incentives to other API providers to encourage collaboration will strengthen your API program, and theirs.
For an in-depth exploration of product thinking and life cycle management, MuleSoft offers an API-as-a-Product workshop. Learn more executing the four pillars of the API strategy blueprint with API Program Workshops.