5 Things to Consider Before Building a Custom API Portal
Several large enterprises are reaping the benefits of having their own Application Programming Interface (API) portal. API portals, or Developer portals, have grown way past the bottom-up thinking of developers posting code for other developers. Today’s modern API portal uses an outside-in approach that position APIs as products that are instrumental to the performance and growth of the enterprise.
According to a report from McKinsey, despite APIs emerging as a unique part of many businesses today, most of these businesses have failed to build a fully functional API portal on their own. Improper business strategy is a significant factor in this failure. Poor maintenance practice, bad user interface (UI), and rushed development are other reasons.
Start Thinking Enterprise Wide
Many companies still look at an API portal as a function of IT, they trend towards building custom portals for their unique needs without a clear strategy of the needs of the API consumer. This bottom-up thinking leads to a choppy user experience, poor navigation and pure frustration to any visitor looking to evaluate the business opportunity of the API offering.
The fact is, API ecosystems are expanding. Let’s not forget developers are the ultimate end user, yet in most cases today they’re the third or fourth representative from an organization to visit an API portal. A true outside-in approach to product development and UX is the only path to a productive API strategy which will lead to scalable revenue growth
In this article, we will take you through the reasons why you need an API portal and why you should think twice before asking your IT department to build the whole system from scratch.
Why Do You Need An API Portal?
A few years ago, a report by Harvard Business Review compared enterprises without an API to “the internet without the World Wide Web”. APIs have become the new gold mine for several industries to generate more revenue by providing their in-house data assets or expertise to the public.
The number of APIs being published by enterprises is growing exponentially year over year. APIs help businesses create efficiencies, scale their product offerings and grow their customer base, leading to the ultimate goal of increased revenue. It has been estimated that nearly 31% of business revenue is generated via API or API-related integrations. According to a Salesforce report, several enterprises record a 54% increase in productivity when APIs are properly harnessed to drive business outcomes.
Key elements to a modern-day API portal offer the following benefits:
Large scaling product catalogs with advanced search capabilities
Product Optimization, dividing API’s into groups for consumption
Robust user-administration tools allowing for layers of permissions and the ability to group members into teams
Communication features that build ecosystems, forums, FAQ’s videos, ect
Integrations with SSO, CI/CD, RBAC and advance Analytics
Multi tenant architecture for multiple API Gateways and API Management platforms
Worldwide coverage through a multi instance architecture
Monetization capabilities to fit the needs of the enterprise
Things to Consider Before Building A Custom Developer Portal
The number one mistake organizations make when preparing for an API Portal build is getting the correct stakeholders involved. The next misstep is forgetting to define the audience and the expected outcome.
Finally, the largest fatal flaw is reverting back to the 90’s with the belief an API Portal is simply an informational website that anyone in the IT department can build in a weekend. Consider the following list before you embark on any custom API portal project.
1. Time to Market
Serious consideration should be given to the amount of time it takes to build, support, and maintain an API portal.
After you’ve defined your audience, grouped your API’s into products, architected the user experience and outlined all the internal and third-party integration points, you're now ready to choose a development platform. Of course, this doesn’t include the platform’s look and feel, content strategy, hosting, or even ongoing support. Many companies fall at the first hurdle, delaying their API program by as long as 24 months.
2. Know Your Audience
Knowing your customer is important in any forward-facing website, application, or portal.
If you still think you’re building for developers only, you’ve lost the race before the starting pistol ever fired. In today's market, where everyone is focused on digital transformation, it is much more likely that the evaluation of your API’s will happen by a business analyst or product manager looking for complementary data sets to expand their markets.
The trend in today’s startup world is to mash up several different API’s to create disruptive applications. Take Uber as an example, it is said they rely on thousands of different API’s all over the world to provide real time mapping and driver to rider communications.
3. Build or Join an Ecosystem
Implementing an API-based ecosystem without well-defined and measurable business objectives can result in low traction and disappointing ROI. Software engineering leaders must understand the business steps necessary to make the ecosystem successful — before they create one.
In the article “To Create a Successful API-Based Ecosystem, Look Before You Leap” Gartner goes on to say “Ecosystems must meet clearly defined business objectives, such as improved retention or increased upsell revenue.”
Is it better to join another ecosystem? If the answer is no, then it is important to understand there are a number of features that promote and nurture an ecosystem. Once the features are set, the next job is to build in the tools to properly moderate and promote communications within the community.
Do all your API’s go through one API Management Platform? Are all your API’s REST or do you have a wide variety of API’s that need to be added? Internal or external, public or gated, Partners only or open to the public? Access, SSO at what level? What about role-based access control (RBAC)? Do you have a plan for dividing your access into teams or by product offering? Or both? Are you planning on listing third party API’s to add to your ecosystem? If you have more than one source for API’s you need to make sure your API portal can support a multi tenant architecture.
All of these items and more make this a portal and not simply a website that displays your API documentation.
5. Maintenance is not Support
Finally your API portal needs to grow and adapt to a rapidly changing digital world. It’s not enough just to update your content and security patches.
The API first or digital transformation is only in it’ infancy, your organization will be adding new API’s, creating new products groups, adding new business units, the demands to continue to innovate will never end. Building a custom portal means you need to stay up to date on those market changes and your portal will need to evolve. Not to mention the demands from your internal staff and executive teams, if 30% of your future business is going to come through your API program can you afford to build and forget?
The Smarter Option to Custom
An alternative path is to choose an enterprise-grade API portal vendor that can provide a much faster go-to-market strategy. A vendor that gives you well-tested API portal strategies with superior UX, established integration points, and advanced features that range from productization to managing and promoting an ecosystem.