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Competing in the API frenzy

Feb 04, 20135 mins
APIsEnterprise ApplicationsOpen Source

A guest post that tackles the top considerations for developers looking to create and sustain a competitive API.

This guest post was submitted by Lorinda Brandon, Director of Strategy at Smartbear Software

If you are a software development professional today, you are most likely aware of the frenzied waters of the current API industry. But, like many people, you may be unsure how to navigate those waters. It’s not surprising, really, considering how new the concept of APIs as a business strategy is. If you are trying to compete in this arena, you need to understand the market landscape in the same way you do when you are planning and developing your core products.

SWOT Analysis

I know it seems like an odd directive, but I suggest starting with a SWOT analysis. When you stack your APIs up against your competitors, how do they rate? What are the strengths inherent in your API offerings that make you stand out? Ease of use? Great documentation? Blazing performance? Likewise, what are the weaknesses? What are the things you hope your consumers overlook? Understanding both of these perspectives as well as the threats and opportunities can help you better define an API strategy that gives you a competitive edge.

Doing this analysis also helps you to determine where you want to be positioned in this landscape and identify the other players in the space. When it comes right down to it, integrators will look at all of their available options before implementing someone’s API, so it’s important for you to know what their options are and how you can win their hearts.

Define a strategy

One mistake so many companies make today is jumping on the API bandwagon without a clear plan. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the compulsion. The API industry is moving so fast that there is a good argument for leaping first and looking later. So, leap if you must, but then make sure you take a look around. With the competitive power of a well-crafted API, it is wise to treat your APIs as you would any product in your portfolio:

  • Build a roadmap that defines which APIs are important for your business to build and expose. Don’t base this solely on what you have today but on how you want to be positioned tomorrow.
  • Establish best practices so all of your APIs are well-documented, well-tested, and easy for consumers to find and adopt. This may forces some hard realities on the development team – for example, consumers prefer RESTful APIs to SOAP these days – does that mean one of your best practices is to use REST when writing consumer-facing APIs?
  • Allocate resources and time not just to build them, but to maintain them as well. Again, depending on whether your best practices require a rewrite of existing APIs to make them more consumable, this may require an investment from the company.
  • Prepare a marketing plan so you can get the visibility you need. Having the best API that nobody knows about it as useful as building a product and never launching it.

Manage the strategy

If you are really serious about competing in this space (and why wouldn’t you be?), you need to be just as serious about delivering on your API strategy as you are about your product strategy. The reality is that having a powerful and easy-to-adopt API can open up business channels for you that have infinite reach. APIs are the bridge from your development team to thousands of other development teams and can put you in front of many more customers than your marketing team can reach on their own.

So, make sure you have everything in place to execute on the plan:

  • A budget for the resources and marketing
  • Resources with the right skills and allocated time to do the work
  • Time Table for delivery and promotional activities
  • Channels for adoption

We’re at the beginning of a new era in software development, so it’s only natural that everyone is still trying to figure out how to adapt to the new demands and expectations of this connected world of developers. But you shouldn’t overlook what you do know – you have tried-and-true ways of entering a marketplace and developing strategies, and that experience and knowledge can give you a firm footing in this new land.

About Lorinda Brandon, Director of Solutions Strategy at SmartBear

For more than 25 years, Lorinda Brandon has worked in various management roles in the high-tech industry, including customer service, quality assurance and engineering. She is currently Director of Solutions Strategy at SmartBear Software, a leading supplier of software quality tools. She has built and led numerous successful technical teams at various companies, including RR Donnelley, EMC, Kayak Software, Exit41 and Intuit, among others. She specializes in rejuvenating product management, quality assurance and engineering teams by re-organizing and expanding staff and refining processes used within organizations. She has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Arizona State University. Follow her on Twitter @lindybrandon