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Understanding Where Folks Are Coming From When They Say API Management Is Irrelevant

I am always fascinated when I get push back from people about API management, the authentication, service composition, logging, analysis, and billing layer on the world of APIs. I seem to be find more people who are skeptical that it is even necessary anymore, and that it is a relic of the past. When I first started coming across the people making these claims earlier this year I was confused, but as I’ve pondered on the subject more, I’m convinced their position is more about the world of venture capital, and investment in APIs, that it is about APIs.

People who feel like you do not need to measure the value being exchanged at the API layer aren’t considering the technology or business of delivering APIs. They are simply focused on the investment cycles that are occurring, and see API management as something that has been done, it is baked into the cloud, and really isn’t central to API-driven businesses. They perceive that the age of API management as being over, it is something the cloud giants are doing now, thus it isn’t needed. I feel like this is a symptom of tech startup culture being so closely aligned with investment cycles, and the road map being about investment size and opportunity, and rarely the actual delivery of the thing that brings value to companies, organizations, institutions, and government agencies.

I feel this perception is primarily rooted in the influence of investors, but it is also based upon a limited understanding of API management, and seeing APIs being a about delivering public APIs, maybe with a complimenting a SaaS offering, and a free, pro, and enterprise tiers of access. When in reality API management is about measuring, quantifying, reporting upon, and in some cases billing for the value that is exchanged at the system integration, web, mobile, device, and network application levels. However, to think API operators shouldn’t be measuring, quantifying, reporting, and generating revenue from the digital bits being exchanged behind ALL applications, just demonstrates a narrow view of the landscape.

It took me a few months to be able to see the evolution of API management from 2006 to 2016 through the eyes of an investment minded individual. Once the last round of consolidation occurred, Apigee IPO’d, and API management became baked into Amazon, Google, and Azure, it fell of the radar for these folks. It’s just not a thing anymore. This is just one example of how investment influences the startup road map, as well as the type of thinking that goes on amongst investor influence, painting an entirely different picture of the landscape, than what I see going on. Helping me understand more about where this narrative originates, and why it gets picked up and perpetuated within certain circles.

To counter this view of the landscape, from 2006 to 2016 I saw a very different picture. I didn’t just see the evolution of Mashery, Apigee, and 3Scale as acquisition targets, and cloud consolidation. I also saw the awareness that API management brings to the average API provider. Providing visibility into the pipes behind the web, mobile, device, and network applications we are depending on to do business. I’m seeing municipal, state, and federal government agencies waking up to the value of the data, content, and algorithms they possess, and the potential for generating much needed revenue off commercial access to these resources. I’m working with large enterprise groups to manage their APIs using 3Scale, Apigee, Kong, Tyk, Mulesoft, Axway, and AWS API Gateway solutions.

Do not worry. Authenticating, measuring, logging, reporting, and billing against the value flowing through our API pipes isn’t going anywhere. Yes it is baked into the cloud. After a decade of evolution, it definitely isn’t the early days of investing in API startups. But, API management is still a cornerstone of the API life cycle. I’d say that API definitions, design, and deployment are beginning to take some of the spotlight, but authentication, service composition, logging, metrics, analysis, and billing will remain an essential ingredient when it comes to delivering APIs of any shape or size. If you study this layer of the API economy long enough, you will even see some emerging investment opportunities at the API management layer, but you have to be looking through the right lens, otherwise you might miss some important details.