The Antidote to Zombie Projects Is an API-Wired Strategy

Dan Poland
by Dan Poland LinkedIn
Aug 22, 2018 11:46:00 AM

The one-thing we’ve learned from the the Walking Dead or Evil Dead, is that the tried and true method of eliminating zombies is to destroy the brain. In business, we can’t be constantly destroying our organization’s central nervous system and that’s why digital transformation is tough. That said, you can design your organization’s brain to effectively adapt to rewiring with a sound API strategy.

Adapted from unsplash-logoStefano Pollio

When Web 2.0 first made API, or application program interface, a standard part of the enterprise and B2B vernacular, it fundamentally changed the interoperability of the world in which we work. Suddenly, we had the ability to enrich our insights and applications with data and functionality from other applications.

Service-Oriented Architecture, or SOA, which opened up critical capabilities of other applications to developers, promised us a greenfield of speed, economy, and efficiency. Even more exciting, we could leverage that openness, as a driver for growth for our own businesses.

It’s Never Too Early for an API Strategy

A decade later, we see that interconnectivity came at a price. The ballooning cloud technology stack of even small organizations today makes understanding how these technologies can and should fit together both a tremendous risk and an opportunity. Smart SMBs are using their API strategy as a differentiator and foundational part of the operational strategy fueling their growth.

For enterprise, the reality is a sound API strategy—one that helps inform vendor and partner selection—is long since a vital operational requirement. An April 2017 report from Netskope revealed the average number of cloud services used by marketing alone totaled 91, following closely by human resources (90), collaboration (70), and finance/accounting (60).

“When you step back and think about what APIs really are — a latent business capability exposed as a technical service for developers (internal or external) to use — you realize that 99 percent of companies CAN benefit from an API strategy.”

Extending cloud service adoption to every facet of an organization, it becomes clear understanding your API ecosystem and proactively defining how it must look to mitigate risk and help achieve organizational objectives is imperative. Documentation is critical for success.

Catching the Next Wave of SOA

With the novelty of SOA and open APIs wearing off, both the possibilities and the the work involved in exploiting them becomes clear. A recent report by Rogue Wave states that APIs for your internal enterprise departments or for external B2B partners have the power to transform enable digital transformation and business transformation, by solving real business and engineering problems.

Whether you are just starting to think about your API strategy, or your organization already has policies in place around APIs, encourage all business units to define and regularly update a full and shared picture on all cloud services, upon which they rely to do business. This includes mapping your internal stack and identifying gaps or intersections at which interoperability is lacking. Then, outline a prioritized go-forward plan for closing these gaps and creating a clear picture and process around billing and other key internal functions.


A Case for the Zombie-proof API Strategy: Build or Buy Reaches Billing

Consider where billing fits, at the seams between your CRM, your technology, and your accounting function. Whether your API strategy is excellent, poor, or nonexistent, it defines your billing architecture and shapes your success. If your billing is manual, disjointed, and prone to errors, your internal teams will be bogged down each month with headaches that do not add value. Contrast that with smooth, clear picture of billing needs and health, that runs correctly on its own, freeing your teams up to capture efficiencies and innovate.

The impact goes far beyond billing. Revenue recognition and post-sale functions, such as finance or customer support, can all be shaped in positive or negative ways, by your API strategy.

Because billing is so central to a business’ operation, companies tend to hold it close. Their instinct is to trying building before buying, without fully quantifying the staggering number of point-to-point integrations that must be built and maintained just to automate the most basic billing functions

Further, the teams that know the most about how billing should work are likely not those who have the deepest technical understanding of the systems they are trying to integrate, how they work, and how they should work together. Likewise, engineering resources pulled from other teams may lack the billing knowledge to ensure that a successful technical integration meets business needs.

This leads to “zombie projects”, those that “fail to fulfill their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources without any real hope of having a meaningful impact on the company’s strategy or revenue prospects.” When considering building or buying to solve billing or other internal challenges, ask yourself if billing is something your core team needs to focus on, or if time and resources may be better spent letting billing experts handle that for you.

Even if your billing seems simple, what works today may not work tomorrow, as your business grows and diversifies. Internally built billing systems can take months to rip out, when flexibility becomes important, and when speed and accuracy are most valuable. Working with partners who are billing experts maximizes your billing visibility and execution, while minimizing time and resources spent on non-revenue generating activities.


Rallying Your Resources Around Your API Strategy

Your API strategy should provide clear guidance on how choose partners with RESTful APIs, to minimize strain on internal resources. Remember, the biggest purchasers and consumers of cloud services within your organization are not engineering teams. Invest in helping them navigate evaluating how robust a partner’s API is and when to engage internal technical resources, as part of that evaluation.

Involve engineering teams early to help co-define what an ideal partner would look like, from both a business process and technical perspective. 

 Aditya Patil, Engineer, describes how APIs and documentation make life easier

Remember the following, when assessing a potential partner’s API:

Documentation is critical. Out of date or missing documentation can cost internal resources lost hours, days, or weeks.

Maintenance is mandatory. Ask about the roadmap and where API maintenance and enhancements fit and how they are prioritized. Do they have a plan for communicating changes in the API to those using it? Will resources be made available to answer questions and implement fixes, if something goes wrong?

Commitment is key. Make sure potential partners view their API as a critical part of the service they provide, not as an afterthought. Does their API provide complete coverage of all the core features your team needs to be successful? Are new capabilities scoped with API development in mind? Spotty or stalled API development can mean your internal resources are still bogged down with double-keying and other inefficiencies.

Flexibility can future-proof your business. Are vendors flexible enough to mold to your business, today and in the future? Do not consider partners without demonstrated agility or whose approach seems better suited for someone else, like trying to bolt-on ERP technology designed for manufacturing with complex supply chains.

Your API strategy and partner ecosystem will accelerate or hinder growth. Asking these questions early will allow you to capitalize on your API strategy, as a catalyst for growth, and prevent problems, limitations, and needing a new brain down the road. {“response”: “Braaaaiiiiiiinnnnnssss…..”}

Topics: SaaS, operations, API, performance economy


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