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The API Journey: Enabling Your Business with APIs Requires a Manager

Product manager developing business APIs and looking at API performance through a visual interface.

It’s Time to Get Agile

Get Agile is a technology-centered blog from Cleo. Bringing a product-management perspective to a wide variety of content, Get Agile is bound to engage and get you thinking about the ways integration professionals enable their ecosystem. Cleo’s contributing team will cover topics as wide-ranging as solution road-mapping, expert tips on how to better leverage integration technology, the art and science of product management as well as agile development principles, and of course, market trends that look to continue to shape how businesses like yours interact across ecosystems.

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Your API Needs an API Product Manager

There are many places within an organization where an API can spring to life. In the past, this mostly came from the technical side of the house. Technical-oriented APIs were designed and instrumented to solve such technical requirements as modularizing applications or allowing one application to connect with another.

Today we look beyond technical need to APIs that will better enable our business to be competitive and even open new opportunities for revenue. To be successful, these business-oriented APIs need to have shared ownership across stereotypically incompatible parts of the organization. Traditional boundaries between business and IT are dissolving, and business APIs deepen the need to not just coexist, but interact, collaborate, and partner in API design.

As such, business-oriented APIs should be managed like a product and productized to the extent that this more modern type of API will inevitably be brought to the market to some extent and in some capacity. For those familiar with the principles of product management, there is a lifecycle – from ideation to introduction and beyond – to be owned for any product.

Similarly, there are API development best practices, and APIs themselves have a lifecycle, starting out of a business need – something like improving the partner B2B ordering process or an API providing access to data or analytics. For the latter, the API will likely be monetized, and you will find customers willing to pay directly for API access. On the other hand, the API for the B2B process may not be monetized. Rather, the value would come through the business transactions flowing through the API. In other words, the API would pay for itself through the value of the business it facilitates. 

As in either of the example use cases, the given API enables the business either through a process or directly. And to ensure proper utilization, at the genesis of these APIs, both the business and IT organizations need to be in lockstep in the API development and the API management lifecycle.

Adopting a Product Management Framework for API Lifecycle Management

A product manager is typically responsible for an entire product from cradle to grave. From partnering with engineering to build the product to supporting sales and marketing to generate business and enabling services teams to implement, manage, and support the offering, pretty much every aspect of the organization is in the path of a product management pursuit.

An API should have a product manager as well, and – to reiterate this point – be treated as a product. The API product manager needs to understand the consumer of the API, the business needs behind funding and building the API. They need the facility to communicate this to the development team, enable the use of the API through advocacy and education and ensure that both the consumer and the business are happy with the results. Like most software products, this is not a one-time process, but rather a process that gets iterated over and over to provide incrementally better outcomes with the API.

API Product Management Calls for an API Product Manager

Here’s an example of the need for API product management strategy. Let’s say it is a B2B manufacturing organization that wanted to provide APIs for its customers to have real-time access to orders. These orders might have come in through a more traditional means, such as EDI. Our organization needs to understand its customers’ requirements to understand what kind of API access a customer might need. This indicates the kind of customer research that our API product manager would conduct by reaching out to key customers to get guidance and input. Without this market research, the organization might make assumptions about customer needs. Now imagine assumptions of customer need are made by someone far removed from the actual customers (such as a development team). It would easily produce a technically sound API that addressed a non-existent challenge, served no market need, and thus is doomed to be little adopted by the partner community.

With that, here are five simple API development best practices every API leader should ensure they follow.

Checklist to Managing API Development the Right Way

1. Do the necessary research

Perhaps the API product manager does the market research and finds that partners want to be able to check on order status, alter quantities on orders, and cancel orders. The product manager would work with the development team to build out these APIs considering many other factors such as authentication, back-end systems involved, ease of use, documentation, and ensuring security.

2. Flush out the business context

While the development team is building out the capability, the API product manager would work with others on tasks such as impact to business process. Being able to change order quantities has an effect on production runs in the manufacturing plant and also potentially impact sales and accounting organizations. All of these business process effects need to be understood and planned.

3. Plan your launch … and your marketing

As the development nears completion, the API product manager needs to plan for the launch. In our B2B manufacturing use case, this might entail creating extensive documentation and training videos for partners to educate them on use of the new APIs. The plan will also need a product marketing framework to help evangelize the new APIs and create awareness of their availability and express the specific business benefits.

4. Turn early adopters into advocates

Finally, the API product manager will likely spend time assisting the first few adopters of our new API. This group will likely include some of the same customers that were part of the requirements gathering process – high-profile customers who will enthusiastically promote the API central to their success and all the real-world benefits gained after implementation.

5. Assess. Iterate. Repeat.

Now the cycle repeats. Like many first versions of software, the APIs may have launched with a subset of the capabilities we want to deliver. Additional requirements also will be discovered as partners make use of the APIs. The cycle will repeat with new releases of the API and new or improved functionality. At some point, it will be time to retire the API, and this needs to be coordinated across the ecosystem by the API product manager.

As APIs have evolved from being the glue in the back office for connecting various software into vehicles for business, ownership, and governance over the APIs needs to be elevated to a dedicated role. The API product manager needs to understand the customer for the API, the organizational impacts of the API, the technical aspects of the API and how to create awareness and generate adoption of the API. This is a broad set of tasks and organizations focused on delivering business through APIs should implement the role of API product manager to productize API development and increase the chance of success.

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About Dave Butcher

Dave is a director of product management with nearly two decades of experience leading B2B, API, application, and data integration product strategies and development. In his role at Cleo, Dave helped guide the creation and launch of Cleo Integration Cloud, the industry’s leading ecosystem integration platform. Prior to joining Cleo, Dave held positions at market-leading integration companies, as well as running productivity applications and infrastructure for one of the world’s largest automotive manufacturers. Dave has an MS in Computer Science from the University of Michigan, a Bachelor of Engineering from Grantham University, a Project Management certificate from George Washington University, and numerous additional software and technology certifications.

 

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