Application programming interfaces, otherwise known as APIs, are an important aspect of any piece of software or platform. If you think about all the data that passes through an application these days, it is hard to think of a time when APIs weren’t an integral part of the software we use.
What are APIs?
For those of you who aren’t familiar yet, APIs are how we can send and receive data from a server or database and be able to see that information in a human-readable format. One of the universal examples of how we interact with APIs every day is Google Maps.
In Google Maps, you can see the fastest route from point A to point B, you can see where traffic is, and you can see where the closest gas station is if needed. All of this information isn’t just baked into the Google Maps app. If it were, Google Maps would probably be hundreds of gigabytes in size. That’s why Google Maps is sending and receiving data from multiple APIs in real-time--to gather and present data in a way that makes it easy for you to navigate when you’re driving.
Likewise, if you’re developing software or integrating services in your business infrastructure, you are pulling information from on-premises and/or in the cloud either internally or from 3rd parties via APIs.
Integration, automation, and efficiency are just a few of the many benefits of using APIs. And if you’re developing software, providing your customers the ability to easily receive and output data from your applications and services is the norm. If you aren’t providing APIs with your tools and services in some capacity, then you are at a huge disadvantage in today’s digital landscape. APIs are essentially the backbone of today’s digital economy.
If you consider all the ways the platforms and services we use get work done, the amount of APIs that are used throughout the business infrastructure begins to add up. That’s why having the ability to manage all the APIs your business uses is crucial. Ultimately, much like how you need to maintain and manage the scripts in your IT stack, you need to manage your APIs as well.
What is API Management?
API management is nothing new, yet it is becoming increasingly important. Five or six years ago, if you asked an IT person how their business was managing their APIs, most probably would give you a blank stare. Nowadays, APIs are so commonplace that API Management solutions are now indispensable to IT teams.
I had a chance to chat with an expert on APIs in order to get a better sense of just how important API management is in today’s digital world. Lorinda Brandon, Director of Products at Capital One had a few things to say about how critical API management is. Lorinda lives and breathes APIs, so you’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows more on the topic.
"Just a few years ago, API Management was important but rudimentary, with most companies just looking for a way to host and monitor API traffic without building the infrastructure themselves,” says Lorinda. “But API Management tools have grown up and companies now demand (and get) things like API Design tools, auto-generated documentation, security, data management, and PCI-compliance, in addition to the API management basics."
To learn more about how Capital One is harnessing the technology of today, including APIs to provide new and innovative financial services, hop over to https://www.capitalone.com/tech.
Choosing an API Management Platform
The tech industry is over saturated with API management tools, so choosing the right tool to manage and monitor your APIs can be a daunting task. Just a take a look at the many lists of tools to choose from. Make a quick Google search and you will see listicles ranging from several to dozens of API platforms and tools to help IT teams manage, publish, monitor, and document APIs.
As with all tools in your stack, the tools and services you choose are solely based on your unique business requirements. A good place to start is to ask a few questions about how your business is using APIs.
- Do you need to monitor your APIs to make sure those services are up and running?
- Are you publishing your own APIs?
- Are you using 3rd party APIs?
- Do you need support for your APIs?
- Do you need your APIs to be secure from internal and external threats?
- Do you need to report on API usage?
- Do your APIs need to be compliant?
Some tools are better for security and compliance, while others are better for smaller development teams. Other tools cater to enterprises. If you can answer the above questions, you should have a better idea of the functionality you need in an API management tool.
Open Source API Tools
If you’re on a tighter budget, there are plethora of open source API tools out there too! And don’t let open source tools scare you; many of the popular open source API platforms and tools are supported by very active developer communities. Heck, some of them are supported by reputable companies in the API space as well.
Hop on one of their forums and start asking away. You’d be surprised by the amount of people who may be trying to accomplish the same thing as you or have already done so and can give you a helping hand. The best part is it's free. Just make sure to share anything you learn with others in the community as well. Sharing is caring after all.