Enterprises these days rely on services and applications that are composed of multiple elements that must be tightly integrated and work together. That means the application programming interfaces (APIs) that make services and functions available to others, and allow businesses to monetize their offerings, are all the more important. And as such, there is an increased need for API standardization.
That message came through loud and clear in two recent surveys. In one, MEF, a global industry association of network, cloud, and technology providers working to accelerate enterprise digital transformation, surveyed 122 global service providers and found that those using standardized business APIs realized, on average, a 25% reduction in order cycle times.
In the other survey, Postman, an API platform company, found that almost two-thirds of 40,000 developers and API professionals respondents said their APIs generate revenue. Of those respondents, 43% said their APIs generate over a quarter of their company’s revenue.
What are the benefits of API standardization?
APIs are becoming more important because of the way applications are built, and services are delivered. Applications are composable, relying on integrated functional elements from different sources. A simple application for most businesses might need a mobile frontend, a link to a backend database, and a processing engine in between. And many might use data from third parties. Standardized APIs would ensure the elements worked together and developers did not have to start from scratch every time they built a new application.
Similarly, the growing reliance on cloud services for everything from security to networking infrastructure is focusing new attention on the need for API standardization.
“Increasingly next-generation services like Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) solutions will be delivered across a system of many providers, and the networks supporting these services will be fully API-driven,” says Pascal Menezes, CTO, MEF. “For this to happen, standards-based automation is required throughout the entire system where all parties adopt a common, standardized set of APIs at both the business process and operational levels.”
In a recent Network Computing article, Menezes expanded on this point, noting: “APIs are a key enabler of NaaS solutions because they allow enterprises to easily integrate network resources into their existing IT infrastructure. However, NaaS represents a new way to deliver network services and advanced capabilities that will likely be made up of piece parts from many partners.”
For the enterprise user of a NaaS service, that means a NaaS solution provider could use a multi-cloud core, middle mile providers, and last mile access on their own network as well as partner networks, yet deliver a seamless, end-to-end offering for a global enterprise. That allows an enterprise to easily purchase services and network resources from their provider with global on-demand elasticity.
Additionally, similar demands for such end-to-end services delivered by multiple providers are cropping in with respect to any cloud-delivered security offering (like SASE).
Industry-specific standardized APIs are the new norm
APIs have been used for decades. Their increasingly important role due to changes in the way applications are developed and services are deployed is the reason for all new attention on the need for standardized APIs. Naturally, standardized APIs help ensure interoperability. But they do much more. Such APIs can help enable automation and service orchestration.
For years, developers have used RESTful APIs and open standards such as SOAP, Swagger, OpenAPI, JSON Schema, AsyncAPI, and GraphQL. Many of these have active open standard communities that are enhancing core services and adding new capabilities. But perhaps the biggest shift is the focus on industry-specific APIs, especially in industries like telecom, financial services, healthcare, government, and more. Here are some examples of their use:
Obviously, one driver behind the use of standardized APIs is financial. “The telecom industry is focused on overcoming monetization challenges as service providers face the reality of complex network environments,” said Andreas Olah, a Senior Analyst in the Digital Enterprise Services at Omdia, in a recent blog. API standardization can help.
As noted by MEF’s Menezes, these APIs offer a new way for providers to deliver end-to-end services by leveraging their own and partner offerings.
The European Union’s implementation of the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which mandated that banks make consumer data available to third parties at the customer’s request, forced the financial services industry to embrace an approach that is called Open Banking.
With open banking, developers use standardized APIs to integrate financial data from multiple institutions within a single application or share financial data between applications more easily. That approach lets financial services firms develop new services faster.
Modern healthcare organizations require simplified integration and easy (and secure) access to data on their own systems and from third parties, including other healthcare providers, insurance companies, and more. That has led to the development of FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources).
FHIR is a next-generation standards framework created by HL7. FHIR solutions are built from a set of modular components called “Resources.” These resources can be assembled into working systems via APIs. FHIR is based on common Web standards, including XML, JSON, HTTP, OAuth, and others. And it can be used with RESTful API applications.
Federal agencies in the U.S., like their enterprise counterparts, are under pressure to modernize their operations and websites, as well as make their services and data more easily available to all of us. Again, standardized APIs play a large role in helping to achieve these things.
To that end, the General Services Administration has developed API standards that bring together best practices and API security. There are numerous APIs for common operational and public-facing functions. For example, there is an eMuseum API that delivers search information and images from The Museum System (TMS), a collections management system used throughout government museums.
A final word about API standardization
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of these efforts is that it shows the benefit of using standard APIs across any large enterprise, service provider, or government agency.
A good example is a GSA Per Diem API, which shares the allowed reimbursement rates for hotel stays and meals for federal travelers. One can easily imagine a large enterprise having many siloed divisions that all need to uniformly enforce the company's travel expense policies. Rather than having every division cobble together a quick application from scratch, an API like this could be used to make that information available to any T&E app that the division's employees use.
The main point is that it does not matter the use, be it to deliver advanced NaaS services on a global basis or to speed the development of applications by reusing APIs based on best practices; standardized APIs are playing a more important role in the enterprise today.