Internal APIs are designed primarily to streamline software development and simplify systems and operational processes. These currently represent the vast majority of use cases.
Internal APIs are often overlooked since they are aimed at in-house developers. These types of APIs generally work with proprietary data specific to a company and its departments. Although this data must be protected, it must also be accessible to those who work with it. Internal APIs allow for exactly this kind of secure access, creating more efficient development cycles for their products.
Similarly, a private API allows for some parts of a company’s data and applications to be accessed by developers working within that same company. These APIs may be used to create publically accessible applications, but the API itself is usable only by the company’s own developers.
Private APIs allow developers to work efficiently by providing a centralized pool of internal software resources. Developers can use these resources to build multiple, varied applications and products which are later accessed by the public. This streamlines development and reduces resource-load, allowing the company to provide more services and products to customers.
Benefits of Internal APIs
One core underlying principle is that API development must be business-value focused. Internal APIs should add value through factors such as costs savings, speedier time to market, and increased quality of products and services.
- Internal APIs enable developers to build new, relevant apps quickly and securely. The API is a layer of abstraction which connects disparate parts of the business. This layer allows for quick adaptation to changing requirements, bringing flexibility to the development process.
- APIs allow for inter-departmental interactions that draw on shared resources. These APIs secure data while keeping it accessible. This is achieved by decoupling the consumption of data from the underlying systems of data accessed by the API.
- Inter-departmental APIs can be tailored to work with the specific needs of relevant departments, leading to more efficient interactions. Consistently-designed RESTful APIs provide a powerful way to achieve this efficiency.
- As organisations grow and become more complex, API ecosystems allow for efficient development across multiple applications and channels. This results in a streamlined service which delivers information in real time.
- Internal APIs allow for the automation of existing tasks through simple APIs instead of heavyweight custom code. Without the need for specialized connectors or proprietary integrations, this backend automation is a streamlined way to save on time and money.
- Taking advantage of RESTful internal APIs will allow your organization to automate and expand its services at a fraction of the cost, and without compromising data security or functionality.
Warning: Do I Need an API?
APIs enable digital strategies and digital transformation by unlocking the power of your information assets. But developers be warned; embarking on an API programme does have its pitfalls.
API Strategy: An API initiative should not be initiated without first understanding what is in it for the business, the business problem being solved, and what business benefits? Does it give you a faster time to market? Does it help your reach new customers/ or markets? Does it reduce costs or drive efficiencies? It’s important to understand that APIs are the means to reaching the goal. Unless these goals are well understood and what success means for the business, the chances are that an API initiative will just fail to meet expectations.
Product Knowledge: API products are intangible/digital goods that satisfy the needs of application developers who seek quick access to information, functionality, and innovation that is necessary to deliver your expected product. You may have the best APIs in this planet but if you don’t treat it as a product and don’t connect with the prospect – internal or not – then you can’t drive the value from it. Hence, the importance of….
..the importance of API Teams: The most successful API initiatives focus on building APIs that make it easy for developers to access content and data from internal systems, with the right levels of security and access control with the ease of use. And for this you need a dedicated API team who will complete the core of building API, getting it set up and published. May organisations already realise the importance of breaking the data silos to share information across departments more seamlessly. And having the right team in place, is the secret to success.
The Amazon Moment
One day in 2002, Jeff Bezos issued a company-wide mandate that transformed the then-bookseller to a $1B, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) API, cloud computing leader. The memo was as such;
- All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
- Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
- There will be no other form of inter-process communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
- It doesn’t matter what technology they use.
- All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.
This API manifesto is often seen as the cornerstone of Amazon’s success. APIs were built as a consequence of the memo. And those APIs served as the foundation for Amazon Web Services (AWS), Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), and Amazon Alexa.
Build Like Bezos
Enterprise or not, language and framework aside, the best approach is to develop your internal API as you are preparing to externalise it. Not only will you build a usable product for technical employees to connect, discover and reuse IT assets, but you will enable self-service channels for accessing data that’s required to do anything from reporting and analytics to building new apps to creating and modifying processes–all without breaking IT along the way.