Digital and API Trends | Looking Back at Our 2021 Predictions

API Strategy, Innovation

Digital and API Trends | Looking Back at Our 2021 Predictions

·  6 Min Read

How have our 2021 predictions matured in large enterprises?

At the beginning of 2021, the digitalML team came up with some predictions for trends in the enterprise API space:

  1. scaling to 1000s of APIs
  2. the maturation of events-based architectures
  3. self-service business and technical functions
  4. the rise of the business analyst
  5. the implementation of governance and standards throughout the API, microservice, events lifecycle

Now that the year is nearly over, we’re going to take a look at how these trends matured (or are still yet to mature).

It’s been a busy year for large enterprises – sustained pressure of digital transformation efforts to adapt to the monumental shift in consumer demands and business models we’ve seen in the last 18 months. It’s more important than ever for large enterprises to be able to deliver products and services directly where the consumer is (link to embedded products blog). PLUS there’s the ongoing IT tasks of “keeping the lights on”, managing enterprise complexity, and modernizing legacy.

With this in mind, let’s see how our predictions have evolved…

1 & 2. Scaling to 1000s of APIs and maturing events-based architectures

Summary of what we’ve seen this year: Definitely a scaling of both APIs and Events – in fact we’re combining the trends together. BUT it’s not just APIs, and it’s not just APIs & Events – it’s multiple types across distributed environments. We’re also seeing a dual pressure: the pressure for new APIs/Events/Services to be business led and how to enable that, alongside the challenges for IT that come with scale.

Proof points for this trend:

Multiple service types across multiple environments

The scaling of APIs and Events is still being seen across multiple domains – from the number of open/public APIs to the numbers we see in our ignite customers’ holistic catalogs, and the growing groups of providers that are building new services across large enterprises.

But we can expand on this trend which we expect to continue throughout 2022 and beyond. It’s not just APIs, and it’s not just APIs and Events, it’s messages and MFT, and a distributed integration environment. It’s also different types of services, from a provider/owner available to multiple consumers (both internal and external).

With this scale come as need for a plan – enterprises are working out how to scale without repeating the mistakes from the past and ending up with just another layer of technical debt. Scale is coming with business and IT coordination, governance and automation, and discovery – driving reuse by different agile teams.

The move to business-led API strategies….

Moving to a business-led approach to new APIs (plus Events, Services etc., but we’ll use APIs as an umbrella term from now on) has been a key priority for enterprises this year. As Forrester puts it “having IT lead your API business strategy is the opposite of an API business strategy.”

Many enterprises have looked to API first as a way to digitize, and scale internal and external APIs. But implementing a true API first strategy that delivers business results, and drives composability, goes beyond developers – it’s a collaborative approach across the entire organization.

….combines with the pressures on IT that come with scale

Scaling APIs has created immediate pressures for IT. As we’ve discussed, there are multiple types of APIs – and they’re not all designed, developed, and maintained in the same way. For example, large enterprises tend to have 1000s of old point-to-point and legacy services – these won’t need a top-down approach with the same lifecycle and governance model (see trend 5 for more on this) as say a business capability API. BUT, it’s still important to be able to provide visibility, audit trails, align to some level of consistency, and enable decisions to be made through an investment vs management lens.

3. Self-service Business and Technical Functions

Summary of what we’ve seen this year: We were early on this prediction, but what we have seen is enterprises making organization changes and investments to support a move to self-service business and technical functions in the near future. Momentum is building.

Proof points for this trend:

Enterprises are getting organized for big things to come

While we may have been a little early on this trend, we are seeing leading enterprises getting their ducks in a row organizationally, and realizing the potential value of this move. It’s reflected in the third-party focused proof points above, and also in what we’re seeing within our customer base. Org changes and investments are focusing on these key pushes:

  1. Creating the connective tissue needed between business on the left and multiple runtimes and application/cloud environments on the right. The tactics here have aimed for a single place to capture, discover, manage, and generate consistent artifacts across platforms, environments, regions, and lines of business, in a way that’s easy to understand by everyone. Also connecting what the business wants to achieve with what IT has in place to help deliver that.
  2. Enablement for business capability driven development, combined with developer enablement and setting up for more roles to interact with the development lifecycle and resulting APIs.
  3. Building up the cadence, skillset, and muscle memory to support more automated communication with automated assumptions and verified checking that it’s done right. Better provider/consumer communication and onboarding, driving investment decisions and priorities.

Putting these foundations in place is key to enabling self-service business and technical functions, in turn to support initiatives like innovation sandboxes and private shared API catalogs between partners and ecosystem players.

4. The rise of the Business Analyst

Summary of what we’ve seen this year: It turns out it’s not just the business analyst – it’s those with a unique perch (including the enterprise architect) that are fulfilling key missing roles between consuming developers and the business. And while job titles might vary, the responsibilities are solid.

Proof points of this trend:

The missing roles in linking business and IT

Enterprises have been focused on the missing link between business and IT when it comes to API development. We see the business understanding the value of APIs more and the evolution of their involvement in trends 1-3. The business also knows what it wants in terms of digital initiatives – but it’s those with a unique perch between business and IT that can help translate those wants into what ends up as a gold standard API.

It’s a wide range of roles including enterprise architects, business analysts, API designers, API product managers, and product owners (although the role titles may differ between enterprises). But they’re all vital to digital market leaders – they care about the reuse and composability opportunity that APIs provide. The combinations that will make the tech and business investments work and will lead to the digital and API economy opportunities being successful. They also understand the complexities of scale that we’ve already touched on.

14 roles want to use APIs

5. The implementation of governance and standards throughout the API, microservice, events lifecycle

Summary of what we’ve seen this year: with scale comes a need for API governance maturity. We’ve seen companies focus on governance automation across the lifecycle, flexible governance models that can be applied to different API types, and growing interest from regulators. API security strategy has also matured (more on that in this dedicated blog).

Proof points for this trend:

Configurable, flexible and automated API governance models

With the scaling we’ve discussed earlier, comes a need for an enterprise API governance strategy (that’s not a handbrake to velocity). The best APIs are compliant, consistent, and complete. We’ve seen enterprises working towards governance becoming an integral part of the lifecycle, built-in and automated so that it’s not an additional step with manual review (watch our on-demand governance webinar to see this in action).

We know that with scale comes complexity, and this extends to governance too. Different types of APIs need different governance rules, business details, validation, frameworks and security applied to them. A business capability API is going to need a much more stringent governance process than a legacy SOAP service that’s been marked for eventual deprecation. The trend this year has been how to apply configurable and flexible governance across all APIs, and across all lifecycle stages, while providing visibility and actively managing this all.

The regulatory aspect of governance is growing too

This is a sub trend we’ve seen grow over the last few years. Especially in heavily regulated industries like banking, regulatory bodies are continually starting to understand the significance of APIs and asking questions around the in built governance and reporting of the API lifecycle. In anticipation of this, enterprises have been focusing on creating a single source of truth for what’s in and out of compliance across their API landscape. We expect this to eventually extend to the rise of internal auditors, but we’ll save that for our 2022 predictions in January!


2021 has been an exciting year in the API space! We’d love to hear your opinions on these trends – have you seen them within your organization, or have you been focused on other priorities? Send us a message here.

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