Today, many companies are planning—or are already undergoing—digital transformations to accelerate innovation and surpass their competitors.
And if companies want their transformations to be successful, they'll have to leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect their systems, applications, data and devices effectively. APIs play important roles in many successful digital companies—they power Facebook likes, Google Ads, and Amazon’s cloud business. (Also read: Open API: The Future of Application Programming Interfaces.)
If you want to drive your company's digital transformation with an API, here are six steps to create a successful one:
1. Define Your Requirements
To create an API, you'll likely have a combination of:
- Functional requirements, which denote what you want your API to do (i.e., the business capabilities the API exposes to its users).
- Nonfunctional requirements, which describe the ways APIs should behave. Typical non-functional requirements include reliability, maintainability, security, usability and scalability.
That means you have to determine what the expectations are regarding your API's availability, performance and response time—as well as what concerns you must address in terms of API security.
To help you gather requirements, you also need to identify your users. Are they internal developers? External consumers? Both? How you can bring value to your intended users as well as your organization?
2. Consider Your Users
Next, figure out how to incorporate your users' needs into your API.
For example, if your company's engineers will use a private API, you have a better understanding of the API's target audience. However, if you have a public API, anyone with a key can use it—so you have to understand more about your users to ensure you meet their needs.
Your users' needs will govern how you should design your API. If your users are your internal developers, they'll need an API that can easily integrate with your organization's existing codebase, while external developers will need a well-documented API that's easy to use.
3. Keep it Simple
One of the most important parts of creating a successful API is ensuring its user interface is easy to understand.
Some ways to do this include:
- Using clear and concise names for parameters and functions.
- Use standard protocols, if possible.
In addition, when you develop your API, you need to:
- Outline the operations for what the API will do.
- Provide a useful description and meaningful for your API.
- Denote the data models explaining request and response messages.
Deploy applicable security policies.
4. Provide Adequate Documentation
Providing the necessary documentation is critical for API success.
You can do this in a number of ways, including:
- Offering "user guide" sections on your website.
- Video tutorials.
- Example code.
- Detailed API descriptions.
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
For APIs to be successful, they have to be designed for the ways users interact with them.
So, to design a successful API, you need to communicate with your developers throughout the entire process.
6. Be Responsive to Developers' Needs
You have to listen developers' feedback. And beyond that, you have to make changes based on that feedback and respond quickly to any issues. You also have to proactively address developers' needs by releasing updates or new features regularly.
All this lets the developers know you care about the their needs and that you'll work with them to create the best possible user experience. (Also read: 10 Things Every Modern Web Developer Must Know.)
You can do this by:
- Answering questions on social media.
- Setting up a feedback forum.
- Implementing chatbots to answer developers' questions in real time.
Responding quickly and effectively to developers' needs is a big part of communication—which, as established, is absolutely critical if you want to ensure a successful API.
The Importance of API Design
API design is key to creating a top-notch user experience. As such, it has to translate an application's capabilities into an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand interface.
This is important for various reasons, including:
- Hard-to-use APIs can result in fragmented workflows and user experiences.
- Well-designed APIs can make it easier to get new developers on board and enable them to get up to speed quickly. (Also read: The IT Talent Shortage: Separating Myths from Facts.)
- Good API designs can boost their adoption and use.
- Well-designed and optimized APIs will most likely remain stable and backward compatible as they scale and evolve.
Put simply, a successful API should:
- Be user-friendly. This means you have to provide developers with clear, concise documentation and ensure the API is well-organized.
- Provide all the capabilities developers need. This will help them create apps to meet users' needs.
- Be high-performing. A high-performing API is able to handle all the requests it receives.
- Always be available and reliable.
- Integrate with a variety of systems. This could include software development kits and databases.