APIs are more than technology
The first ever Api Days Nordic was organized in Tampere, Finland in May 2016. The choice of venue was fitting – Tampere has a long history as a center of heavy machinery industry. Given that Tampere also has a strong ICT and telecommunication cluster, Tampere has a lot of potential for becoming a significant IoT hub in Nordic countries.
I had the chance to host the technology track on the first day and to speak in the business track on the second day of the event. During the event, I got reminded of the multitude of interesting perspectives you can have to APIs. Normally, I look at the API economy from the perspective of API management. Even though API management has several touch points to API design, API lifecycle, API roadmaps and APIs as business, the speakers at the event provided either new insights or good reminders into the area of APIs.
APIs can easily be seen as a technical solution, digital middlemen that allow exposing information assets or providing access to an interaction layer. But if you see APIs only as technical solutions, how would you persuade business or data owners that it is necessary to open APIs? And how do you make an entire sector understand that maybe you should not choose a single application or system everyone must use, but rather build an ecosystem that all can join through APIs? And what it you go even further and architect an age-old system like country? When your thinking expands beyond technical enablers, country can be a service platform, and government a startup.
One of the key messages of API Days Nordic was that APIs should actually be treated as products. If API is a product instead of just an access endpoint, it should be designed first. The design phase needs also the effort of non-technical team members, for example business owners, so it should require zero-coding abilities. Also, the design phase may several iterations. Because APIs are written for API consumers to use, it would not hurt to have a roadmap that can be shared and a product lifecycle that is managed. And as with other products (tangible or intangible) it is not possible deliver a product alone: it will need documentation and support. To enhance the chances of an API product becoming popular, it also makes sense to consider the developer experience of the API: how easy is it to understand and how fast it can be taken into use.
Besides providing insights and useful reminders about API economy, the event also gave me a chance to speak about my favorite subject: Open API management. API management can help API owners to simplify workflow for common API management task, but at the same time it can act as a self-service tool for developers to discover and start using interesting APIs. At its best it can enhance the developer experience of the API.