April 12th, 2013

Want ROI from Your APIs? Then Lower the Cost of Building Them

Internal and External DevelopersI often hear the term “ROI” used in reference to an API program. Often, it is the discussed in the context of getting either direct revenue from an API or growing reach from an API, which in some places, translates into a lower cost of customer acquisition. While both direct revenue and reach are admirable goals, ROI from an API program is not limited to the number and quality of external developers.

For instance, most organizations will derive far more immediate payback from an API initiative if it enables internal developers, enterprise mobility initiatives, tighter partner integrations or even IT rationalization through hybrid cloud. Each of these endeavours will pay dividends in terms of productivity, agility, distribution and lowered IT costs. Each deserves its own dedicated discussion. However, underpinning all of these API business drivers  – external developers included – there is one often-overlooked consideration for cost and return in any API program: how do you introduce and innovate new APIs cost effectively?

Obviously, there are many ways to stand up an API. Many packaged software applications have some kind of API already, even if some are XML- or SOAP- centric. But in many instances, nothing exists except the desire to expose a piece of functionality or quantity of data as an API. Programmers can obviously build “programmable  interfaces” onto almost anything. It just takes time and people. However, the results will be brittle and the journey expensive.

A faster, less costly and more flexible route is to use an adaptation layer that can talk to various application or data backends and dynamically render one or more as an API. Using a backend adaptation layer can, with the right product, also solve the related problem of iterating on an API, both in terms of versioning but also composition. Add to that the promise of facilitating new business functionality by orchestrating API interactions with external mobile, social and cloud services and you get a pretty compelling ROI story.

Not surprisingly, Layer 7 provides such an adaptation layer. Our API Gateways provide more than just security and management; they simplify backend connectivity, new API formation (i.e. composition) and novel orchestrations with all kinds of cloud, social and mobile services. Like many of our API compatriots, we provide tools that help enterprises build and foster developer ecosystems. But we also realized early on that much of the cost and potential of an API program will rest on how quickly and cost-effectively new services can be launched and evolved. Something worth considering the next time you evaluate the ROI of an API program.