Ida Vejzagic, Digital Strategist at GRM Digital, explains what an API is, and why you should consider an API-first approach to development.
APIs have been around for about two decades now, but it is only in recent years that the so-called “API-first” approach to development has begun taking the world of technology by storm. And it’s no surprise, as APIs are a much-needed power-up for leveraging digital assets, and thus keeping up with the rapid technological advancement and continuously increasing consumer demands.
What does API-first development mean?
Before getting into the API-first approach, it’s important to touch upon the 101 of API alone.
An application programming interface, or API, is a piece of code that essentially acts as a mediator between two applications or platforms. It communicates the request of the first-party to the second one, ensuring that the “order” is completed successfully. A common analogy for this is a restaurant waiter, who mediates between the customer and the kitchen.
Through the API-first approach, developers are bringing the API to the foreground of the development process. It means that they first complete the API design, so as to facilitate communication between apps/platforms right from the outset. Once that is settled, they work on the rest of the application.
This is very different from the code-first approach, where the API gets inserted when everything else is done. In this case, it’s often hard to tell in advance whether the API will align properly with the end product or not.
The massive shift towards API-first
Nowadays we consume data every single day, through a huge number of apps and a variety of devices. With customer satisfaction being the top priority of any business, it’s crucial to provide a seamless digital experience across all channels and devices.
It’s worth mentioning that nine out of 10 customers actually expect companies to be able to provide a consistent omnichannel experience. And as we know, customer demands are constantly increasing, so if businesses cannot adapt now, they may fall behind easily in the future.
With API-first, you’re basically planning ahead for that, whether you’re developing your own API or using a third-party one. How the data of your future app will be rendered on different platforms comes down to the API.
So, it’s only natural that this approach to development has gained momentum among business strategies. In fact, more than half of IT decision-makers say it drives a better digital experience and accelerates innovation.
How the API-first approach benefits your business
There are several advantages of putting the API first, but let’s take a look at the three most prominent ones.
1. It boosts the development process and time to market
API-first can benefit your development team in many ways. Essentially, it facilitates and speeds up the entire development process. This has been the effect of API-first for 58 per cent of businesses.
Namely, APIs can be developed and tested simultaneously, which saves the team a lot of time. APIs are also modular and reusable, so once they’re created, developers only alter them if they need or want to – which is not a frequent occurrence. Therefore, the API-first approach equals reduced development cost.
Another benefit is that the front-end and back-end team can work at the same time, without depending on each other. Along with cost- and time-effectiveness, this possibility of a parallel workflow takes a huge burden off the team’s shoulders, which means that the API ensures a more positive developer experience overall.
Besides, optimised development means that any product created with the API-first approach will arrive to the market much sooner. With how competitive today’s market is, and how much customer patience has dwindled, it’s obvious why that is a huge advantage.
2. Future-proofing the product
Because APIs are so reusable and adaptable, the product can easily be upgraded with new services and features. There is no need to restructure the entire product, so its functionality remains intact while it’s able to keep up with future innovations and demands.
This agility is also the reason why any risk of failure is reduced. The API-led approach ensures the kind of consistency and flexibility needed for reliable products.
3. Better customer experience
While streamlining internal processes is a huge plus, there is no denying it’s worth very little if your customers aren’t satisfied. They are virtually the linchpin of your business.
Utilising an API-driven approach helps you gain a competitive edge in this regard. APIs allow you to give customers beautiful user interfaces across a variety of channels and devices, enabling a consistent and delightful digital experience. Moreover, these experiences are delivered much faster, considering the increase in development speed, time to market, and overall adaptability of APIs.
APIs in a headless CMS
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about headless content management systems and how they’re the future.
There are a number of reasons why headless CMSs have been gaining so much traction in the world of web development and digital marketing. Flexibility for developers, easier content creation and collaboration, more security, easy modification in the future, and an improved UX are only a few of the things companies can look forward to when going headless. But what role does the API play in all of this?
Well, headless CMSs are frequently referred to as API-first CMSs because the API does quite a large chunk of the work when it comes to content. Simply put, content is created only once within the CMS and published across different channels via the API. This is why headless architecture is often an ideal choice for businesses, as it flaunts omnichannel publishing, future-proofing, and time-saving as its main advantages.
Nowadays business success depends on the ability to provide seamless experiences to consumers on a variety of devices and platforms – smartphones, tablets, smart devices, PCs, VR, chatbots, etc. What’s more, they need to be able to keep up with the rampant technological innovations and easily adapt to changing customer demands. Headless architecture, ie an API-first approach, makes this a graspable reality.
Naturally, the API-led approach will not suit every business equally. There is no such thing as a universally applicable solution, and each business should assess their own needs and resources carefully before deciding which way to go. However, if your company aims for top notch omnichannel experiences for customers, as well as certain internal benefits, like faster development, content creation, and time to market, then you should definitely consider going API-first. It’s a great asset in the process of digital transformation – the key to business survival these days.