What is API first design?

what is api first design


In the technology industry, we have built a rich and descriptive terminology. It contains many terms which usually make a great sense for the people inside the industry and the people familiar with the technology trends.

But tech industry doesn’t exist on its own. Its purpose is to enable.

Once such terminology becomes relevant to strategic business challenges we face the dilemma.

The dilemma is how do we, as technology leaders, communicate these terms to the audience of people who are not so technical.

In case of business software, its the business strategists and product owners.

If technology leaders are not doing the good work while communicating the clear messages and value propositions, its left to a large and mostly nontechnical audience to make interpretations.

One can argue that this is how many of the technology buzzwords are born.

API First what?

The goal of this post is to simplify and address one of such technical terms – API first desing.

With an overview of why this specific subject became very interesting to business strategists and product owners. And what it actually means for both digital business strategy & technology strategy.

Lets start with smart devices.

Smart Devices

Apple rediscovered the concept of smartphone.

At the time in 2007 this was a concept used by Nokia and a few other slow movers. Apple successfully challenged the existing status quo.

It quickly became clear that we as consumers are ready for the vision of smart devices Apple offered us. Google joined the league as well.

The new way of digital interaction just skyrocketed. There was no turning back. Convenience always wins.

What exactly is different?

Now, with the new smart devices interaction facade so loved by users, how exactly this challenged the underlying foundations of technology and business?

This is what we were used to before the smart device revolution

ecommerce before smartphone api first

Before smartphones became everyday things, already large numbers of consumers used electronic commerce.

Companies like eBay and Amazon and others were making significant amount of revenues from the online trade. But the main way buying online was by using the standard desktop.

Technology strategy of maintaining all the business technology domain inside the business ownership boundaries and only share the journey results views with the Internet browser on the desktop.

Large, monolithic technology architectures were working just fine. There was not much segmentation, some Internet browsers were slightly better than others, but its was pretty much it.

With smart phones, consumer interaction with business has changed to this

ecommerce after smartphone api first

There is one significant element here once it comes to technology strategy.

In the pre 2007 diagram we saw that even though consumers were accessing e-commerce properties over the Internet, the full control stayed inside the the business technology domain. Nothing had to be shared.

We were just giving them the final result (view) of their searches, items, purchases etc.

With the new smart phone app ecosystem rapidly growing, this was not the case anymore.

Mobile applications live on the smart devices which strategically is out of business control.

Mobile applications need the data. They also need the journey data. The user experience and part of business logic is then being created within the smart device itself.

Mobile strategy demands clearly defined data access points to the business domain. And clearly defined, mobile ready data formats.

Tech Strategy

With this in mind, what’s the impact for the business technology direction?

The effect on business technology strategy is quite large.

The following items stand out if you are the technology leader in the organisation.

We have partially lost control of how technology is enabling our customers. Previously business completely owned the technology system and only gave customers the final results. Now, our technology is split between the domain business controls and the smart devices which are out of our control.

We now have to expose all the data needed for customer journeys to open internet. Without this piece mobile applications are not possible.

Clear technology leadership decisions are needed to manage such data flows. And to define the standards around how data is shared and consumed. We have to clearly define interfaces and boundaries.

Is our technology ready? It has to withstand high volumes of growing communication from our customer smart devices?

What about APIs?

With all this context I think we are ready to talk about what API or Application Programming Interface actually means.

In this context its the way to clearly define the standards of how the data is exposed.

From within controlled business domain to the public domain. This data is being shared with the large numbers of smart devices who are out of business control boundries.

what is api

Why API first?

What do we technologists mean by API first design?

We recognise that smart devices are the way customers will be mostly interacting with digital businesses in the future.

There is no turning back and the challenges I have mentioned in the above section will become the norm for technology which has to support the business.

With this in mind, we should aim to build the technology strategy around the ports & adapters type of architectures. We should clearly define such ports and interfaces, reducing the dependency on the specific technology stack.

API first means we now have to consider readiness to expose the sensitive data to the public environments in order to support business challenges arriving from the smart device adoption.

As always, comments are open for discussion.

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