APIs remain at the forefront of business success as growing ranks of successful companies use APIs to share data externally with devices, applications, partners and also internally. Though there may be myriad viable API strategies, the team at Intel Mashery has helped launch more than 200 customer API programs, and has identified a few key steps that can encourage an overall API launch with the potential to generate new revenue streams, increase innovation and drive business development.
An API launch is similar to any product launch. Just like with any product you launch, you need to set goals, define resources and come up with a long-term strategy to make your API successful. From a business perspective, there are three key steps to help make the launch (or re-launch) of your API a success. Focusing on these key factors can increase your chances of overall API program success.
The first step to setting your API on the path that is right for you is to establish API program goals from the beginning. One effective method of establishing the right goals is simply to talk with key relevant business stakeholders within your organization, and set holistic program goals that address their priorities. Those goals should map to performance metrics that will help track the value of your API to your overall business. This step allows you to measure your progress as your program grows. Your API and your business may change over time, so don’t be afraid to adjust your goals as your program develops and the market changes.
A great example of successful goal setting is the launch of Tribune Media Services’ API program (OnConnect) in 2012. TMS’ launch aimed to reach a new market forming around the use of TV listings data by a new guard of devices and apps: streaming video set top boxes and second screen apps. Naturally, this new channel would perform differently than traditional cable boxes. So how did TMS adjust its goals to complement its existing market? It asked current business line heads about potential opportunities outside their own business.
“We engaged our key stakeholders early in this process; prior to beginning any development work,” says Mike Fioritto, OnConnect’s product manager. “We conducted several sessions with them to map out the key goals and performance metrics we would use to measure the success of our program. This continues to be a work in progress as we learn more from our customers. We knew this would be an iterative process and discussed that early on with stakeholders.”
As TMS saw, new devices offer powerful platform opportunities for companies that use APIs to enter these emerging markets. Your API can help you reach new platforms quickly and efficiently, and ensure you claim your stake in a new space.
Have you ever tried to use a new technology—software, hardware or otherwise—using less-than-helpful documentation, then contacted support, only to feel like you out-teched the support tech? APIs are no different. Your API needs to be easy to use, well supported and documented, no matter who your API users are. To provide them with the best experience, you and your team need have the right roles and resources for your API. It’s important to have someone technically proficient to offer developers, internal or external, direct support for coding with your API.
Customer support is key to enabling the operation of any open or closed API—so much so that many companies are dedicating internal resources to this, even hiring operational aspects of API teams from day one. One Fortune 500 financial institution did this to help ensure that API users could make sense of usage limits, to watch and evaluate partner needs, and to offer both reactive and proactive customer support. Additionally, in-house resources can also help developers on the core team keep connected to partner launches and serve in consulting roles during pilot projects. This can be key to helping rapidly improve any beta offering based on direct partner feedback.
Your API community likely may rely on your core implementation team to support them in their development. Beyond development, partnerships can grow, fostered by a team focused on your API’s success. Having the right team in place to support all aspects of your API can help make a difference in the success of your program.
Once you have decided on your goals and what resources will best support your API program, it is time to launch. For your launch to be successful, however, thinking long-term about your API as a product may eliminate future obstacles: What is your API audience and what are their needs for the API? MYOB, Australia’s leading accounting and bookkeeping software provider, operationalizes its accounting services all as products, in part to enforce clear messaging around market needs and expectations for each one of their offerings.
“The first aspect here was having the mindset that the API is a product. As such we need to understand who are our customers, what are their needs and how does the product satisfy them,” says Paul Greenwell, Platform Strategy Manager at MYOB.
But don’t try to sell ice to a polar bear. Make sure that you think about what is important to your API audience: what are the features they want that will help them be successful?
“As with any product you need to think of usability as well as functionality and then how you plan to take the product to market. For developers, usability means the API design, developer on boarding and API management (i.e. dev keys, rate limits, usage reporting), documentation, samples and tutorials,” says MYOB’s Greenwell.
Once you have thought about your users’ needs, further crossroads may come into view: marketing, branding, driving engagement and building a plan to monetize your API. Thinking all these elements through can help drive engagement, create buzz in the community about your platform and can help make you successful internally. MYOB saw that productizing its API gave the team a sense of identity and helped to solidify the API as a product, alongside its current line. For MYOB, simply creating a brand and imagery around the API was key, according to Greenwell.
Successful strategies like setting goals for the program (including monetization), ensuring you have the necessary team to support it, and managing it like all your other products may help ensure all the work and time that goes into your API pays off. These practices will ultimately keep your API customers happy and help you build a successful API program.