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January 21, 2016
Unlocking Product Value with OSS API Management
By: Jonathan Hamilton

We need to start thinking of how to enable our products as platforms. That’s a rather big mindset shift from ‘just’ enabling the integration of our products into an overall solution. While we won’t get there overnight, we can start working on some of the fundamentals.

One key fundamental in our reach is to expose and operate a healthy API for consumption by clients, ecosystem partners and even your own products. At this point, no one would argue that APIs are absolutely required for market software success. And, the topic of what is required for a “healthy” API is enough material for a separate post, so in this post I will focus on the “expose and operate” component.

Creating an API indeed takes work, but there’s much more work after the API is created. You need to expose that API to a defined “consumer” (again clients, ecosystem partners and even your own products) and then operate within an agreed set of service levels.

Historically, these concepts and the supporting elements have evolved over time. In the not-so-distant past, you would email your WSDL file to a consumer and someone would call, if there were issues. Thankfully the tooling and supporting processes have come a long way since then. Now, there is a range of API Management products that enable new platform business cases, simplify development, and improve operations of APIs. Broadly speaking, they consist of two components: [1] an API Platform and [2] an API Gateway.

  1. An API Platform exposes our APIs to authorized parties and reduces friction for consumers to develop, test and deploy their solutions using our APIs. The API Platform provides a Developer Portal, enabling common API development needs, such as documentation, access controls and test environments.

  2. An API Gateway provides key operational/runtime features such as management console, access controls and service tiers. The API Gateway provides the ability to add monetization and improve operations of SaaS APIs through better controls and information.

By adding these capabilities to our products, we will be much better prepared to realize the benefits of APIs.

It’s worth noting that until recently API Management was primarily a commercial offering. These commercial offerings have transformed early adopters, such as Walgreen’s use of Apigee to enable realization of third-party applications tapping into its services. Fortunately there are now many Open Source Software options, such as Tyk, APIMan, and WSO2. These OSS options will allow us to realize the value of API Management in our SaaS solutions, while minimizing impacts to costs.

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