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Frank Kilcommins is API Technical Evangelist at SmartBear. He has over 15 years of experience in the technology industry, his roles spanning from software engineering to enterprise architecture. His mission is to inspire, engage with, and support the API community as well as SmartBear customers across the end-to-end API development lifecycle and management space. Prior to joining SmartBear, Frank’s most recent roles have been focused on API-led digital transformations and architecture modernization within multinational enterprises.
Each year, SmartBear releases a number of industry insight reports, and with our focus on software quality across the software landscape, we consolidated all our industry analysis under the theme of State of Software Quality, having editions related to testing, code review, and API. Even with a new name, the State of Software Quality |API report continues to help us keep a finger on the pulse of the API community.
The goal is the same as every year: gauge the temperature on trends, practices, methodologies, and tools used by teams to deliver and manage APIs throughout their lifecycle.
We consider this data invaluable, as it helps us assess what’s working and what’s not across the landscape. We leverage the analytics to inform our decisions and improve our API journeys, as well as build tooling to support the wider industry.
We make the report freely available so it can support the API community at large.
Nearly 1,700 API practitioners and stakeholders responded to our survey, representing 17 industry verticals.
The primary focus group was users of Swagger, Collaborator, SoapUI, and ReadyAPI tools. It was encouraging to see a diverse set of roles respond and a healthy distribution across organizational sizes.
There are many takeaways from the report this year, but if I was to distil it to the top five, it would be as follows.
1. API Adoption and Development Are Becoming More Established
APIs now have a footing in most organizations, and we’re seeing maturity increase across all industries. This comes to us with 22% of respondents stating they have been involved in developing or providing APIs for 10+ years.
We’re also seeing that 2021 was a landmark year. Enterprises and customers adopted digital transformation initiatives faster than ever — often out of necessity due to the rapidly changing COVID-19 environment. As a result, API adoption increased across several industry verticals. Additionally, trends indicate the API industry is accelerating, backed by Gartner, which predicts a 37% increase in API investments in 2022.
The main drivers coming back from our survey show most organizations leverage APIs to reduce development time or cost (63%) to provide internal interoperability (61%) and to fuel transformation (47%). This network effect brings into focus the need for quality, resilience, and adaptability to meet consumer needs.
2. The Majority of Organizations Operate in a Multiprotocol Landscape
With the wide variety of API styles and technologies available to teams, it’s natural that we see an emergence of multiprotocol usage. A mix of integration patterns and API styles is becoming normal, and in many cases, complement each other. And this is strongly reflected in our findings this year with 81% of respondents citing their organization uses more than one protocol and 57% of organizations use three or more protocols.
REST still dominates with 91% saying they deliver APIs using that style. Perhaps surprisingly, SOAP is still holding strong at number two (57%), which sees an increase from 54% in 2019. Both GraphQL and gRPC have doubled in usage compared to 2019, from 12% to 24% and 4% to 8%, respectively.
Companies now realize that to give customers optimal experiences, a combination of styles can be beneficial. So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Enterprises need to embrace multiple styles as the new norm, and that new protocols and styles come to market faster than existing ones will disappear, adding more complexity to the API environment.
As a result, we’re challenging ourselves at SmartBear to deliver tooling which makes it more efficient to operate in polyglot API environments with multiple protocols and styles.
3. API Standardization Is Still the Top Challenge
As API adoption and growth continues, standardization (52%) continues to rank as the top challenge organizations hope to solve soon as they look to scale.
Without standardization, APIs become bespoke and developer productivity declines. Costs and time-to-market increase to accommodate changes, the general quality of the consumer experience wanes, and it leads to a lower value proposition and decreased reach.
Additionally, the consumer persona in the API landscape is rightfully getting more attention. Consumer expectations have never been higher. API consumers demand standardized offerings from providers and will look elsewhere if expectations around developer experience isn’t met, which is especially true in financial services.
Security (40%) has thankfully crept up in the rankings to number two this year. APIs increasingly connect our most sensitive data, so ensuring your APIs are secure before, during, and after production is imperative. Applying thoughtful standardization and governance guiderails are required for teams to deliver good quality and secure APIs consistently.
4. API Quality and Increased Testing Are More Important
We looked at common obstacles to ensuring quality, including associated risks with poor quality and how organizations view API quality as a business priority. Quality is a top priority with 75% of respondents stating that API quality is “very” or “extremely important” to their organization.
As the API market heats up, competition is increasing, and companies realize poor quality can result in missing deadlines and SLAs. We also saw loss of customers and company-brand damage score high in the results.
Teams want quality, but there’s clear friction between delivering at speed (with the resources available) and delivering quality at speed. As a result, developers spend more and more time testing with 57% of devs reporting they are involved in testing.
To get to better quality, teams need more testing, but they do not have time. There needs to be a focus on automating the mundane and repeatable tasks, and letting the QA specialists focus on organic testing and validating ease of use.
For me, these challenges should be combined with what’s important to API consumers. Organizations delivering APIs should continue to focus on the quality and accuracy of their documentation powered by specifications which promote quality earlier in the lifecycle. This should hit the sweet spot regarding what determines API success in the eyes of delivery teams, product managers, and consumers.
5. Ease of Use and Interoperability With Existing Tools
Almost three-quarters of respondents both develop and consume APIs, resulting in teams spending more time interacting with APIs in general. Ease of use, interoperability with existing toolchains, and extending functionality without reinventing the wheel continue to resonate with API practitioners.
Productivity and morale are hindered by cognitive load, and teams want to be met where they are. More value must be placed on immersive experiences when it comes to delivering and consuming APIs. Tools that empower developers to work with multiple API styles and protocols — rather than forcing unwatched context switching — are likely to meet with approval from large volumes of developers, testers, and so forth.
It Was a Year of Illumination
All indicators suggest that the API market will continue to grow, especially with the accelerated demands on organizations from the pandemic. Achieving the right balance between speed, agility, and security are arguably the most important consideration that providers and consumers must deal with moving forward.
Looking at the sentiment of respondents this year, the overall outlook across all organizations and industries was a positive one. There’s a sense that companies are moving in the right direction with better understanding of strategies like API-first, product- and customer-centric mindsets, and an increasing awareness of the importance of documentation and open standards.
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