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One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” The spirit of this quote should be top of mind for organizations looking to build a scalable integration strategy.

API-led integration centers around mobilizing a strategy not just to connect systems for a single use case, but also to create a future-proof foundation for growth. This foundation allows an organization to quickly integrate anything and everything when needed. This level of agility is a competitive advantage as it combines quicker time-to-market, lower TCO, and higher-quality deliverables for every technology project undertaken by the organization. 

Simply building APIs alone will not create a foundation that provides these advantages. You must follow Einstein’s advice and think clearly about the problems you’re trying to solve before considering solutions and apply the mindset of a technology product manager.  

Product, not tactical mindset

While some might think, “But I just need to connect a few systems together and get data where it needs to go. I’m not building a product,” I’d argue that in order for your organization’s API-led integration effort to be successful, you’re still defining and engineering a product. You’re just building that product for yourself rather than building one to take to market. 

While integration and API management platforms can be deployed to handle tactical initiatives, successful IT teams maximize their results by using a strategic platform with a goal of supplying data in a way that scales by delivering composable, reusable assets. Using platforms in this fashion is what drives the business value discussed in my build vs buy blog post. Defining the big-picture vision and roadmap upfront is of the utmost importance. Tactical projects are a means of delivering chunks of the overall product, and if you execute a project without thinking of how it influences the overall product you are creating, then you will fail to realize the value of your investment. Business agility is the outcome of understanding the current needs and future vision and marrying these into a roadmap that incorporates both.

Let’s look at a P&C Insurance example. A tactical plan could involve building an API and an integration flow to pull data from upwards of 30 data providers that are used for core insurance processes like quoting, binding, claims adjudication, and billing. This approach puts the cart before the horse. Instead, define and examine how the business workflows work and how each one interacts with the underlying systems. How does multi-policy billing work? How does the company process changes to a policy? What would a common policy data model look like for the P&C carrier? These questions, and others like them, determine the correct way to design the data model and API process orchestration layer for future reuse and scalability. 

Application network as macro product

The macro product to be defined and built is the application network fueled by MuleSoft Anypoint Platform. At its core, this network of APIs is responsible for supplying the data necessary to drive actionable business decisions, fuel modern user experiences, and allow each system within the enterprise system landscape to focus on what it does best. Without a vision for the future, our application network becomes overly focused on tactical project-level success criteria and misses the mark on the big picture vision. Quickly connecting the policy administration system to the 30 data providers in the P&C scenario mentioned above without considering what’s next is a good example of building without a vision for the future.

Four critical questions that should be asked when defining the capabilities, roadmap, and release schedule of the application network are as follows:

  • What are the main business challenges we’re seeing right now that have been attributed to systems integration? What were the causes of these challenges?
  • Which critical enterprise systems (identity management, core business systems, CRM, HCM, ERP, etc.) contain the data we need for the initiatives on our roadmap?
  • What does each of these critical systems do well? Are any of them doing workflows that other systems are better equipped to handle?
  • What upcoming business initiatives have integration needs, and when do these capabilities need to go live?

Clearly there are many more considerations outside of these four around compliance, security, and auditability along with the overall competitive market, KPI definition, and operationalizing the product. These are beyond the scope of this writeup but also warrant careful consideration.

APIs as micro products

This product-driven mindset should extend beyond the macro of the application network and into the micro product domain of APIs.

Successful engineers almost always spend more time planning than writing code. API design is no different, and taking the time to plan and design a scalable, reusable API is of the utmost importance for maximizing the investment in the application network product. MuleSoft is purpose-built to accelerate the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC) process and allows development teams to invest more time in designing impactful, future-proof technology investments and spend less time slinging code. 

This type of design-first mindset racks up both long-term and short-term wins by allowing an organization to adhere to the long-term vision of the product while also accelerating near-term development cycles. A quality SDLC process built on design-first principles ensures that the labor cost of your development organization is applied effectively to building the right chunks of functionality to support that long-term vision and that these chunks will be critical fixtures in the long-term strategy. It also reduces churn and developer inefficiency, accelerating development velocity, and productivity. 

The result of product-first thinking

At its core, MuleSoft is a platform for optimizing the heavy costs associated with systems integration by applying a strategic methodology for integration focused on asset reuse and supplying a platform that accelerates every aspect of that methodology. Properly executed, this methodology allows IT groups to focus their spend on more meaningful initiatives rather than code-heavy tasks and maintenance of fragile integration patterns. Taking a product-first approach is often overlooked as one of the most critical components to delivering on the promises of API-led integration.

See how insurance provider, Generali, is driving agility and delivering digital transformation with APIs in our recent webinar.