Brian Mulloy, Web & software executive, developer and maker at Apigee, says:

An important part of building a successful digital business is developing an effective API initiative. Several flavors of API initiatives support the digital economy. To determine which is most suitable for your organization, it’s important to consider where the app developer resides in relation to your business: Do they work internally, within a partner’s company, or independently (“in the wild”)? The role you want developers to fill determines which of three API initiatives comes into play: internal, partner, or open.

Many successful API initiatives are done in stages. With each stage, businesses can build on previous projects, assume more risk, and invest in larger projects more easily.

Internal APIs for business agility and flexibility

Often, the demand for an internal API is driven by the need for mobile applications or portals to handle internal business processes, including HR or CRM functions. Keeping things secure while providing access – a core strength of APIs – is often important even within an organization. Cross-departmental projects today often require big program management apparatus and onerous processes.

Legacy IT systems tend to be stable, but also slow moving and not easily able to keep up with market evolution. Putting APIs between IT systems and apps results in agility and flexibility, while still enabling a business to take advantage of the underlying stable systems.

Partner APIs for collaboration and business development

The partner API program incorporates collaboration with other businesses. It’s best for companies to begin by working with one or two strategic partners, who will create apps, add-ons, or integrations with the API. Ideally, the API will have been tested, and because the API is used across organizational boundaries, the API team learns lessons about support, documentation, and authentication schemes.

Keep in mind partnering using APIs can be useful in creating new channels, helping partner organizations to use your value proposition to expand into an adjacent business, or enabling a partner to complete its offering. They also enable deep visibility into business interactions with partners that can help inform and refine partner strategies.

Pearson, the world’s largest book publisher, is a great example of a leading company using APIs to connect with internal and partner developers. Pearson’s API program simplifies the development and maintenance of its online educational applications using its wide-ranging selection of educational content. With APIs, Pearson has been able to accelerate and scale its developer ecosystem, which has grown to many thousands of developers. Using APIs, Pearson has been able to accelerate the rate it creates high-quality and adaptive online learning experiences globally.

Open APIs for breakthrough innovation

Having developed internal and partner projects, the API team will have built institutional knowledge and confidence for opening the API to the world of innovative developers, who can take the API in creative, valuable directions for the business.

APIs are openly documented, available via self-service (developers can sign up and get a key on a website), and employ open technologies. They lead to innovation, efficiency, and also reach by enabling your core business service to be “remixed” by developers outside of your company.

Additionally, the burden of being an expert in the hundreds of different platforms and devices out there is shifted away from your enterprise and onto developers. Perhaps more importantly, businesses from Netflix to Walgreens have found tremendous advantage in opening up their data to innovative developers outside of their companies and enabling them to create new experiences for customers.

An open API enables the gathering of important data about how developers build on an API; this helps an organization create a differentiated experience that attracts more developers.

Choosing the right API program for your business

In conclusion, many successful enterprise API initiatives start with internal models, expand to partner APIs, and then possibly to open APIs, with each stage building on its predecessor – yet there are no absolutes.

Getting the right mix of API program scenarios can push an enterprise toward becoming a robust platform for innovation that enables it to compete in a world of new expectations and compelling opportunities, speeding it on its way to digital transformation. It’s all about finding the right API initiative to fit your business challenge.