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Back in 2016 — a lifetime in microservice years — a MuleSoft colleague, Matt McLarty, myself, and two others released the book “Microservice Architecture.” One of the things we pointed out in that book was the need to harmonize speed and safety at scale. The message was clear: in order for enterprises to take advantage of the microservice wave, they need to lean heavily on DevOps to create safety at scale. And I am happy to say that most organizations have taken the message to heart. DevOps is often listed as a prerequisite for a healthy, successful microservice and API program

However, recently, a new challenge has emerged for organizations that have become so adept at designing, releasing, and managing microservices. That challenge centers around the ability to leverage the very services the company spends so much time and money creating and supporting. The new mantra is “speed and agility at scale.” Why? Because creating lightweight resilient services are only half of the story. The other half is using — and reusing — them.

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Leveraging your existing services efficiently is a key to success. According to MuleSoft’s connectivity benchmark report, IT departments are being asked to raise their productivity by more than 30% for the coming year. Yet, less than 40% of those surveyed were able to meet their project commitments to the business in the last year.

The cost of speed

Everyone would like to move faster. But there are costs involved. Designing and building services quickly means you have the opportunity to build many more services, try out more ideas, and innovate faster than your competitors. Arie de Gues, author of the 1990s classic “The Living Company” points out that “your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only sustainable competitive advantage.” 

Once you have the ability to safely create lots of API-based services you need to maintain them, keep them up-to-date, and — most importantly — you need to be able to find them when and where you need them.  

The role of API catalogs, portals, and search engines come into play here more than ever. Organizations need to keep track of their service catalog, and control visibility and access to these services for the right communities. They also need to provide tooling that makes it safe, cheap, and easy for architects, developers, and designers to locate and integrate services already available within their organization.

It makes no sense to continue to fund one-off API and service projects if they already exist somewhere else within the company.

The advantage of agility

Clearly, after years of using DevOps to increase speed and safety, companies are still not able to keep up with the pace of change. So, what are our options? Where do we turn next? Is it as simple as adding more catalogs and API portals? Not quite. A pattern I’ve seen emerging in the last year is a (re)focus on maintaining agility within the company’s service ecosystem. 

In this context “agile” (small “a”) refers to the ability not just to go faster, but to change directions more quickly and efficiently. Former chairperson at Johnson & Johnson, Sandra E. Peterson explains that agility is fundamental to leading a team through times of change. For IT organizations, that means making it safer and easier to find and coordinate existing services within the organization.

Smaller API-based services are only valuable when they are easier to find and easier to use. But the problem is, integration currently still takes way too much time and money, according to MuleSoft’s connectivity benchmark report, on average, companies are spending 36% of their time designing, building, and testing custom, one-off integration projects. This means that the risk and costs have migrated from the microservice build phase to API integration step. 

With survey respondents reporting an average spending of $3.5 million a year on integrations alone, the real key to managing costs and increasing your organization’s ability to deliver is to be found in taming the integration problem. In my experience, companies who have a set of well-designed, well-managed API-based integration platform tools are the ones who exhibit the agility needed to get past this new hurdle on the road to IT success.

The power of scalability 

According to MuleSoft’s connectivity benchmark report, less than 20% of organizations have successfully integrated end-user experiences across all channels. That’s a small percentage of the overall group but it is still significant. These companies are the ones that have learned to scale out their integration play. As a result they report an increase in customer engagement, business transformation, and innovation activities within the organization.

Scaling integration through APIs means getting more from your investment in microservices and commitment to DevOps practices. And, just as companies did when transforming the process of creating API-based services, the challenge of transforming integration efforts will rely on a mix of tooling, planning, and cultural change. 

To borrow from Arie de Gues, I might say: “your ability to integrate faster than your competition is your only sustainable competitive advantage.”  And, to do that, the next level of speed will rely on an API platform that promotes consumability, discoverability, and composability. 

For more on how integration is impacting organizational speed and agility, download the 2021 connectivity benchmark report