A Five Step Framework to Scale, Optimize & Accelerate API Standardization

  September 30, 2020

Consistency is one of the most critical elements of accelerating API development as organizations try to meet increased demand, quality expectations, and regulatory requirements.

Without a consistent API design to developers, there is no guarantee that the final result will match the intended purpose or the application depending on the API can function properly. At scale, a lack of consistent design standards can negatively impact developer productivity, lower API quality and increase API delivery cycles. .

According to the 2020 State of API Report, standardization remains a top challenge for more than 58% of organizations. In particular, large enterprises that have increased API production to support digital initiatives. This is where design quality directly impacts the consistent delivery of good customer experiences, and as such has become a top priority for enterprises. This “Five-Step Framework” will help you overcome potential roadblocks to your standardization efforts.

Why API Standardization Is Important

Imagine the anarchy of building a skyscraper with a team of construction workers without blueprints. A lack of design standardization could result in structural failures, cost overruns and failed deadlines. The same scenario applies to API standards and can create major problems for organizations and key stakeholders, such as; increased cost of development, user frustration, and failure to meet industry and regulatory standards.

In simple language, internal teams and external consumers shouldn’t spend precious time figuring out your API designs! It’s important to remember that if your users find your APIs complicated or the documentation confusing, they will look elsewhere for an alternative.

Advantages of Design Standardization

A clear design methodology ensures that APIs align with the business needs. When the Five-Step Framework is used for design, there’s less ambiguity, there’s more collaboration, quality is more ensured, and API adoption increases.

Organizations that successfully implement design standards gain the following advantages:

  • Higher API quality by ensuring the design aligns with business needs.
  • Less time spent in peer review by automating API standards and governance.
  • Improved developer collaboration with minimal need for future versioning.
  • Reduced risk by ensuring API design adheres to all the regulatory and industry standards.

API Industry Regulatory Requirements

The expansion of the “digital” economy has resulted in an exponential growth and adoption of APIs. In some vertical industries like financial services or healthcare this has resulted in the introduction of “industry mandatory standards” governing APIs. For example, the European Commission implemented a set of API requirements for the Banking and Financial sectors called Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2).

PSD2 is a required set of rules for banks in using APIs. Industries and organizations have also introduced mandatory standards such as: ISO20022, FHIR, IATA, BIAN, SWIFT and Criterion. Organizations must implement strict API governance to ensure that their APIs meet industry and regulatory requirements.

It’s a Better Experience for Developers

Having clear and consistent API design standards is the foundation for a good developer and consumer experience. They let developers and consumers understand your APIs in a fast and effective manner, reduces the learning curve, and enables them to build to a set of guidelines.

API standardization can also improve team collaboration, provide the guiding principles to reduce inaccuracies, delays, and contribute to a reduction in overall development costs. Standards are so important to the success of an API strategy that many technology companies – like Microsoft, Google, and IBM as well as industry organization like SWIFT, TMForum and IATA use and support the OpenAPI Specification (OAS) as their foundational standard for defining RESTful APIs.

Common Challenges Associated When Scaling API Development

By 2025, the digital economy is expected to be worth $23 trillion globally, or 24.3% of global GDP. To capitalize on this expansion, organizations must develop and implement an API strategy.

This is built on the foundation of well-designed, consistent, and reliable APIs. Within large organizations, it is common to encounter these challenges when trying to scale their development:

  • Multiple versions of the same API located in multiple places.
  • Multiple people involved with the same API that need to collaborate and share.
  • Lack of control and visibility across the API workflow when change occurs.
  • Lack of a formal style guideline and/or design best practices.

Most of these challenges can be meditated when organizations implement and enforce API design standards, across all their development teams, both internal and external.

Why Is Standardization Essential for Scaling API Development?

Organizations cannot ensure quality within their API design and delivery process without standardization. Reinforcing design standards improves the ability to predict successful outcomes and contributes to an organization’s ability to scale their API development at speed while ensuring quality.

Without standardization, individual developers are free to make subjective choices during design. While creativity is something to encourage it quickly can become chaos when not appropriately governed by a style guide.

It wouldn’t be possible to scale your API design and development processes successfully, or comply with regulatory and industry standards, without a formal process to reinforce standardization. Having an API design style guide provides the “guardrails” needed to let internal and external teams collaborate when building API definitions and re-using assets.

Implementing a Standardization Framework

Even understanding the benefits of standardization, many organizations struggle with establishing governance over API design. To help organizations successfully enforce design standards and potentially scale the program across their organization, we developed a “Five-Step Implementation Framework. It works in combination with SwaggerHub, providing a central collaboration platform where developers can go for a single source of truth for OpenAPI definitions.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Define the Business Case
    1. What are you standardizing & why?
    2. Who do the rules apply to?
  2. Crucial Elements of Standardization
    1. OAS syntax
    2. Standardization rules (internal & external requirements)
    3. Custom rules
    4. Domains
  3. Introduce your Standardization Drivers
    1. Create standard templates
    2. Create custom rules
  4. Educate & Incorporate Training
    1. Live training & documentation
    2. Q&A Checks
  5. Review & Optimize Your Process
    1. User feedback
    2. Review outcomes
    3. Optimize

In this blog series, you’ll learn how to use the “Five-Step Framework” and SwaggerHub to implement API standards across your enterprise. This will result in many advantages for your business, such as lower development costs and better quality APIs. Better yet, when done correctly, they’re easy to maintain, adopt, and consume.

In our next blog, we’ll explore the first two steps of the implementation framework in detail: “Define the Business Case” and the Crucial Elements of Standardization.