API-led connectivity is a methodical way to connect data to applications through reusable and purposeful APIs. These APIs are developed to play a specific role – unlocking data from systems, composing data into processes, or delivering an experience.
When the entire organization adopts what is known as API-led connectivity, everyone in the business is empowered to access their best capabilities in delivering applications and projects through discovery, self-service, and reuse.
API-led connectivity not only depends on three categories of reusable APIs to compose new services and capabilities, but also decentralizes and democratizes access to enterprise data. Central IT produces reusable assets, and in the process unlocks key systems, including legacy applications, data sources, and SaaS apps. Central IT and other teams can then reuse these API assets and compose process level information. Then, app developers can discover and self-serve on all of these reusable assets, creating the experience layer of APIs and ultimately the end-applications. This API-led approach to integration increases agility, speed, and productivity.
Why is API-led connectivity necessary?
API-led connectivity is becoming an important integration strategy because the technologies that enterprises are using to engage with their customers, employees, and partners have changed dramatically. The convergence of enterprise technologies like IoT, SaaS, big data, social, mobile, and APIs are providing powerful new tools to allow businesses to do more, unlock new revenue streams, understand their customers better, and innovate faster than ever before. But to do so, they need to integrate these new technologies with APIs. Traditionally, these integrations have been done via point-to-point connections, done in an ad hoc way whenever a project requires. This leads to complicated and brittle systems that are prone to failure and require a great deal of IT’s time and resources to maintain.
Moreover, the frequency with which these new systems change has also increased. For example, whereas the database schema of a core banking system may change only on an annual basis, the requirements of the online and mobile banking applications connecting to those systems may change weekly, daily or even hourly. The speed of these changes cannot be accommodated by traditional point-to-point integration methods. Another approach is required — API-led connectivity.
How does API-led connectivity reduce IT’s workload?
API-led connectivity has an important role to play. This is because IT is often tasked with implementing these new technologies, and making the necessary changes, as well as maintaining legacy systems (and their connections to other systems). The requests they must fulfill is ever-growing, even as their resources stay constant. Eventually, what results is an IT delivery gap:
The number of new projects necessary to implement today’s technology needs – measured against IT’s capacity to deliver them – is spiraling ever upward. And as the technology requirements of the business continue to grow in a multiplicative fashion, IT’s resources only grow in a linear way, no matter how many resources a business can throw at the problem. According to our Connectivity Benchmark Report, most IT decision makers are expecting their budgets to either stay the same or increase very slightly, so unlimited resources are not an option. That is why API-led connectivity is a better integration strategy.
What are the APIs that enable API-led connectivity?
API-led connectivity provides an approach for connecting and exposing assets. With this approach, rather than connecting things point-to-point, every asset becomes a managed API – a modern API, which makes it discoverable through self-service without losing control.
The APIs used in an API-led approach to connectivity fall into three categories:
- System APIs – these usually access the core systems of record and provide a means of insulating the user from the complexity or any changes to the underlying systems. Once built, many users, can access data without any need to learn the underlying systems and can reuse these APIs in multiple projects.
- Process APIs – These APIs interact with and shape data within a single system or across systems (breaking down data silos) and are created here without a dependence on the source systems from which that data originates, as well as the target channels through which that data is delivered.
- Experience APIs – Experience APIs are the means by which data can be reconfigured so that it is most easily consumed by its intended audience, all from a common data source, rather than setting up separate point-to-point integrations for each channel. An Experience API is usually created with API-first design principles where the API is designed for the specific user experience in mind.
By building and organizing your APIs this way, and then making them discoverable and available for the business to self-serve, API-led connectivity has made your business composable, allowing teams throughout the business to compose, recompose, and adapt these APIs to address the changing needs of the business.
How would API-led connectivity work in my business?
API-led connectivity is a critical element to closing the IT delivery gap. In a traditional point-to-point integration approach, one might wish to develop a web app to provide real-time order status and order history for sales teams to engage with customers. For this example, let’s assume you have customer data in SAP and in Salesforce; inventory data in SAP; and order data in an e-commerce system.
What might be commonly done at this point is that your IT team might aggregate customer data by wiring together customer data from both systems – with code. Then, the aggregated customer data is further combined with order data in the e-commerce system to produce both the order status and order history data – with more code. Now these two sources of data are hooked into a Web app API which can be leveraged by the web app.
This project might be considered a success; it was launched on time, on budget, and has the correct functionality. But then the sales team, who are often on the road, are demanding that this functionality be available on their mobile phones. So, the IT team is now tasked with building a mobile app. But the developers building the app aren’t able to use any of the work that was done for previous projects. So they have to redo all the work, which in itself is not a great outcome.
Even though the developers know this is likely a short-sighted approach, they justify it given the typically intense time pressures. If there are consultants involved (as is typical), the problem gets worse, as they have little incentive to think about the long term. Over time, changes become very expensive or near impossible to make. But as change is constant, agility is now made very difficult. As you can see below, the familiar “spaghetti code” pattern begins to take shape.
With an API-led connectivity approach, however, when teams are tasked with building a new mobile app, there are now reusable assets to build from, created from Systems and Process APIs, eliminating all of the work needed to build them.
Creating the mobile app, therefore, is a matter of plugging together the various systems. And it is now much easier to innovate and add new services — in this case, adding shipment status information — in much the same way order status and order history was accessed. This saves time, money, and resources and ensures projects can be completed more quickly.
As you can see, API-led connectivity uses some of the principles of service-oriented architecture, but this approach is an evolution from SOA in the direction of self-service consumption of reusable assets. The API-led connectivity approach allows developers throughout the business to compose and recompose reusable services to build projects they deem necessary, rather than the top-down, heavyweight dictates of traditional SOA approaches. The method in which these assets are used in an organization is as important to the API-led connectivity approach as the assets themselves.
What are the business benefits of API-led connectivity?
An API-led connectivity approach to delivering IT projects ensures you are not only on time and budget with your first projects, but you have built the reusable assets that will save your company time and money, created an infrastructure which is designed for change, built in visibility, compliance and governance and, most importantly, met the needs of the business, which is long-term sustained agility.
It enables you to move fast on your first project, but then actually accelerate further from your second project onwards, due to reusable assets and a built-up organizational capability; API-led connectivity liberates resources, allowing you to innovate and to move quickly.
On average, MuleSoft’s customers found that the increases in agility and speed provided by API-led connectivity led to delivering projects 3x-5x faster and increased team productivity by 300%, compared to legacy or homegrown integration solutions.
How can I learn more about API-led connectivity?
For more details and resources about how API-led connectivity can benefit your business, take a look at our whitepaper API-led Connectivity: The Next Step in the Evolution of SOA.
To discover more about customers in every industry who have benefited from API-led connectivity, take a look at the eBook on how API-led connectivity enables digital transformation.