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API planning for enterprises requires ample due diligence

When integrating APIs into your business applications, be sure to forecast your communications traffic, rank your business performance metrics and try out potential vendors.

In the world of application programming interfaces, you either produce APIs or consume them. When enterprises consume APIs, they need to follow some simple steps as they embark on their API planning.

APIs, a hot topic recently in unified communications, can be embedded in business applications to enable communication tools, such as click to call, messaging and video chats. Enterprises can consume APIs via a cloud service -- those that typically have subscription or pay-as-you-go price plans -- as opposed to one-time licensing fees. This article will focus on the former.

With API planning, the first step is to know your territory. For example, representational state transfer, open APIs and API management are different than service-oriented architecture (SOA), which aims to create architectures based on services. When you want to embed APIs into business applications, don't think of it as SOA.

In many ways, APIs are better than SOA. They are easier to use and integrate, and they can be invoked from the browser during development. APIs are the way you consume most cloud services these days -- and they're hip and cool.

In other ways, SOA is better, since it has well-conceived interfaces that don't change much. SOA also has solid contracts that you can rely on. If you're using SOA extensively in your enterprise, you should use an enterprise service bus.

Estimate your communications traffic

The next step in API planning for enterprises is to estimate your usage. Know what you need -- whether it's mapping, geolocation, tax conversion, an online payment or shopping cart. The problem, especially with API planning, is many options are available to solve the same challenge.

The problem, especially with API planning, is many options are available to solve the same challenge.

In that case, determine how much communications traffic you want to use. If you want to send short messages, you'll need to know how many messages you plan to send on average in a month. This is important because you want to know how much you might pay per month to use the APIs.

Next, start to evaluate products and vendors. Different vendors offer the same APIs, but not all services will fit your needs. At this stage, check within your organization to determine what's most important for you and your potential vendor. Use key performance indicators (KPIs).

When evaluating vendors, consider these KPIs: the vendors' business models and price plans; support tiers; vendor size and stability; frequency and reliability of service updates; ecosystem size around the API; the availability and content of the service status page; availability of a service-level agreement (SLA); and, lastly, how approachable is the vendor?

Overall, reduce the risk of having to change things. In many businesses, embedding third-party APIs is usually a one-time effort and not an ongoing project. So, you want to try to build this thing once and not look back.

Prioritize business needs and test vendors

Decide how important your KPIs are. Is an SLA mandatory? Do you need a four-hour support response time 24/7, or just during work hours? How important is cost? Would you rather pay in advance or pay as you go? Does your legal department want you to use a vendor that has a presence in your home country? Do you want APIs that are simply easy to use or more flexible options?

Weigh your KPIs and determine their priority in your decision-making.

Next, pick a vendor. You might want to pick more than one vendor -- either for negotiation purposes or for redundancy and availability. Score each vendor against your KPIs and sum things up. The vendors with the highest scores are shortlisted or selected.

Try out your shortlist of API vendors. In most cases, vendors offer free test accounts. This try-before-you-buy evaluation ensures vendors have everything you need. Re-evaluate your scoring sheet to see if it needs updating. Now, you are ready to select an API and embed it in your business application.

This whole API planning process serves two purposes. First, it forces you to consider what you really need instead of chasing the latest, trendy APIs. Second, it can be a group effort, where the goal is to get key stakeholders to agree -- not an easy feat in most businesses.

Next Steps

Track the API lifecycle from planning to production.

Proper planning is needed for API integration.

Take a look at one API vendor's enterprise platform.

Dig Deeper on Communication Integration with Enterprise Applications