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Software Architecture & Development

Developing software faster with APIs

Developers rely on application programming interfaces (API) to deal with ever shorter innovation cycles. Various API concepts support a wide range of application areas.

12 Apr. 2016 Mark Lubkowitz
Programming interfaces enable super-fast development of new programs. (Photo: royyimzy /

Digital transformation

There is no single strategy for managing the digital transformation, just a range of solutions to apply. What is clear is that digitization is driven by innovation and agility: develop an idea, define a goal and implement it – preferably yesterday. And then make continuous improvements. These solutions in perpetual beta force companies to adopt ever shorter innovation cycles.

The "fail early fail fast" approach is often evoked to compensate for reduced development time. If customers or employees don't accept a solution, if it doesn't work, then it must either be quickly revamped, or completely set aside and replaced with something new.

But if developers need to devote massive resources to creating basic functionalities in every new solution or improvement, their work is not efficient. Using agile methods and adopting a DevOps approach to better align application development and IT operations can be a way out of this dilemma. And application programming interfaces play a key role.

In general there are three different ways to speed up software development, and a company's digital transformation, using APIs.

External APIs

Instead of a carsharing portal, for example, cobbling together its own interactive map, Google Maps offers a constantly updated, well-known, universally usable product that can be implemented very quickly – and with an outstandingly well-documented API. It only takes a few minutes of time with the documentation to build highly functional, interactive map applications.

Google Maps: Car2Go uses the Google Maps API to show the locations of its carsharing fleet, and also offers its own API. (Photo: Screenshot)

Some companies shy away from using external APIs because they mean depending on third parties for their solutions, and might generate royalty costs. But there are plenty of arguments in their favor: They can let you reach your goals faster, with the time saved invested in user experience.

The risk of external APIs becoming orphaned over time cannot be entirely eliminated, but it is acceptable when compared with the efficiency gain.

Internal APIs, APIs for partners and API management

When business processes are gradually digitized, this also means making digital data available – selectively, to connect widely differing IT modules or to make data usable for products and solutions. APIs stand out here as a forward-looking, universal interface.

Promoting a timely and progressive API concept can help avoid problems that typically arise in ad-hoc development. Undocumented and chaotic expansion, unnecessary redundancies, incompatibilities that can no longer be resolved, lack of rights management and unmanageable versions are damaging to business in the long run. Implementing centralized API management instead can take care of publication and control of programming interfaces. Such a system precisely controls who can access which data, how often and to what extent, and how data is brought into the company.

API management: Alongside providers such as CA and Apinauten, Microsoft also offers an API management solution. (Photo: Screenshot)

The payoff: Once the API and management is in place, products and solutions can be developed and rolled out almost spontaneously, because data access is already enabled and standardized. Management quickly reveals how APIs are being used and where things could be optimized. And well-structured API management shortens innovation cycles.

APIs for partners

Internet giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook have shown the way. They open up their APIs to third parties to attach them to their own universe – from the integration of Google Maps and YouTube, to shops connected to the Amazon Marketplace, to the development of apps and automated publication of Facebook posts. The more partners use APIs, the more market weight they carry.

For the vast majority of digitized companies, the Internet is not necessarily the ideal target group. It is enough to make their internal APIs – or those that they select – available to partners. Integrating these into the value chain benefits the company, the partners and also customers.

API management

Opening up application programming interfaces does involve some risks. DDoS attacks, either targeted or enabled by programming errors, could bring an API down. Here API management has a role to play, in particular for authentication, limited attempts, monitoring and integrity.

A partner API might seem to pose big challenges. But these days various companies offer comprehensive additional API services, such as Microsoft with Azure API Management, CA with its API Management Suite, Leipzig-based Apinauten with its Apiomat, and SAP with the HANA Cloud Platform.