This article is part of APIFutures, a distributed, creator-led effort to identify the most significant opportunity and/or the greatest challenge facing the API community in 2024. You can check out other articles and viewpoints on the APIFutures landing page.
For some, 2023 was an amazing year for their API program. For others, 2023 will be remembered as a year where API programs were met with challenges such as reduced budgets and a mandate of “do more with less”. No matter what last year was for you, I want to share some insights of where I believe some of the biggest opportunities are for API programs in 2024.
Opportunity #1: A Leaner API Program
Digital transformation initiatives have been underway for 5 years or more now, with the earliest adopters having started the effort 8 years ago or longer. Millions have been poured into the initiatives to realize cloud migrations, the shift to platform engineering through technologies such as Kubernetes, and a focus on API first culture.
Last year, the budgets slowed down, forcing the “do more with less” approach to API programs and enterprise IT in general. Some enterprises saw a reduction in their API program budget, while others continued to maintain their commitment to their API program and an API first culture.
Things are shifting back to the business. No more expansive rewrites and modernization. We had years to get that done. Time to deliver value to business and customers. APIs are at the center of this, but it will require a leaner API program.
This shift to a leaner API program was seen through several trends that we predict will continue into 2024:
- Self-service API training resources to equip their product owners and technical leadership in necessary API skills
- Establishing a federated API coach program to equip leaders across the organization
- Adding API governance engagement models to extend the effectiveness of the API program through office hours, collaborative design sessions, and API design facilitation for high-profile initiatives
Summary: Expect a continued effort to produce a leaner API program through self-service API training, establishing a federated API coach program, and new API governance engagement models that make better use of time and resources.
Opportunity #2: Realizing the Goal of API Reuse
When we speak with organizations of all sizes and industries, one of the top 3 goals for their API program is reuse. Whether the reuse is focused internally (“localized API reuse”) or intended to drive optimized partner and customer integrations (“globalized API reuse”), the intent is the same: organizations are seeking a culture of “consume when possible, build when necessary”.
Last year, we saw organizations focusing their efforts around API portfolio ownership, which included disciplines such as API discovery, API cataloging, and API lifecycle management. Some organizations used these efforts to track unused APIs (“zombie APIs”) or unknown APIs (“shadow APIs”) to prevent them from compromising their systems. However, the longer-term goal by most of these organizations is to catalog and offer APIs to their internal developers, partners, and customers.
Summary: Expect to see a continued focus on API portfolio ownership, including the discovery and cataloging of all types of APIs and digital assets.
Opportunity #3: The Growth of the API Product Manager
APIs are becoming the lingua franca of today’s digital business. APIs are the digital front door to every organization. This is resulting in conversations about API capabilities and API onboarding by everyone - from account managers to product leaders and executives.
Last year, we saw that many organizations had to quickly upskill their staff in API fundamentals. We also noticed that organizations had to adjust their processes to support routing API-related discussions to product owners or business product managers that were familiar with the APIs in the particular domain area.
No longer are product owners and product managers limited to overseeing partner integrations, web apps, and mobile apps. Digital assets such as APIs, events, and data will become the responsibility of product leaders to own and manage. Training in the concepts of applying a digital product mindset and understanding of API fundamentals will be necessary for this new role.
Product leaders will also be expected to manage APIs through their full lifecycle. This means applying a digital product mindset, including product discovery, to APIs. Product leaders will rethink the fit-for-purpose approach to API delivery, instead applying productization for reuse into the typical partner integration project.
This will require the specialized role of API product manager to become more common in organizations starting in 2024. This role will demonstrate the use of APIs for their partners by making simple API requests to demonstrate value. They will be participating in API onboarding calls that were traditionally left to technical leaders to help them identify gaps in the onboarding process, spot improvement opportunities in API documentation, and add missing API capabilities to their backlog. Existing product leaders will require coaching in skills such as API fundamentals, API design, and full API lifecycle ownership.
Summary: Expect to see an increased focus in the role of API product manager, with a focuse on the full API lifecycle, skills in using and designing APIs, and API productization to better support new business opportunities.
Final Thoughts on the Evolution of API Programs
The landscape of API programs and governance is poised for significant evolution in 2024. Organizations are moving towards a more efficient and effective management of their API initiatives, driven by the need to optimize resources and deliver value more rapidly. Three key opportunities stand out:
The Development of a Leaner API Program: Enterprises will streamline their API programs, focus on self-service API training, implement federated API coaches, and expand their API engagement model. This lean approach aims to enhance effectiveness while optimizing the use of resources.
Enhancing API Reuse: The growing emphasis on reuse will drive demand for API portfolio ownership, focus on API discovery and cataloging, and improved lifecycle management of APIs. This approach seeks to maximize the reuse of APIs, both internally and externally, aligning with the principle of “consume when possible, build when necessary.”
Rise of the API Product Manager Role: As APIs have become integral to digital business, the role of the API product manager is gaining prominence. This specialized product leadership role will be pivotal in managing APIs throughout their lifecycle while applying a digital product mindset to ensure APIs are fit for purpose and contribute to new business opportunities.
Overall, 2024 appears to be a year where the alignment of API strategies with business goals will be crucial.