Finding the business gold within an API


Mark Boyd

Mark Boyd

Conversations between C-suite level personnel and dev rel teams can look very different to those that would naturally flow at developer oriented events. At his upcoming DevRelCon London talk, writer and API industry analyst Mark Boyd will share his ideas about how intelligent metrics can enable dev rel experts to demonstrate the value of their API strategy and user engagement across the business.

Whipping metrics into shape

With a career background encompassing data models and evaluation frameworks, as industry conversations have moved more towards talking about APIs and their use across a range of different sectors, Mark has been struck by the relative lack of rigour and common consensus for measuring the success of developer outreach strategies. Speaking to evangelists, they’ll often tell him they rely on, “A process of being able to attend events or run workshops, and then visit the developer portal afterwards to see if there was a spike in usage.”

He’s also noticed a growing desire among developer evangelists and API providers to link their activities to the broader business goals, both by sharing data points and “Stories that show they’re having an impact on their business growth in terms of revenue growth and customer acquisition.”

Sensing the value in a set of more rigorous metrics, Mark teamed up with John Musser, the founder of ProgrammableWeb, to work on establishing a framework to measure the success of an API strategy.

The pair has already worked with a small group of API providers to put their framework into practice, and determine which metrics provide the most value. Establishing a set of reliable yardsticks against which to measure success, however, has not been a straightforward process.

“It’s really tricky to be able to put metrics behind a lot of this work”, Mark says, “it’s also a fairly new field, so there aren’t really any tried and tested approaches to being able to evaluate objectively what works. However, there are a lot of best practices that we’re able to look at across developer engagement, and determine which ones are particularly effective.”

Translating value for non-technical colleagues

One significant drawback of the lack of clarity in measuring success has, according to Mark, been a difficulty in communicating the impact of a dev rel strategy across a business, particularly with non-technical colleagues; “A lot of the discussions I’ve had with various developer evangelists and API providers focus on the fact that they want to be able to link their activities to the broader business goals by both sharing data points and the stories that really give life to what they’re doing having an impact on their business growth in terms of revenue growth and customer acquisition.”

Part of the problem, Mark suggests, is that developer outreach programmes have often been seen as peripheral to core business functions. “Sometimes it’s a little bit of the side of the business case or it’s been attached just to marketing or something like that rather than being seen as a part of the overall business strategy.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this disconnect frequently leads to a poor understanding of the impact of an API strategy and a lack of alignment between what it aims to achieve and the wider aims of the business at large.

“Dev evangelists need to also apply their skills internally by looking at the wider business goals and seeing how their work with developers will help the business achieve those goals, whether that be entering new markets, strengthening customer relationships, or working with specific partners,” Mark says. “Identify what overall goals the business has set itself over the next year, and speaking with those lines of business around what KPIs they need to report. Is there a way to start collecting dev metrics that will help those lines of business demonstrate that APIs are helping them reach their targets?”

The key to overcoming this gap, Mark believes, is to communicate the purpose of an API in a way that fits the understanding and aims of your audience. 

APIs strategically redefined

To help explain the importance of an API strategy to people from non-technical areas of a business, Mark will usually describe APIs as connecting various different systems, either internally, or from internal systems to external. He’ll depict them as “Contracts for sharing information and exchanging information or services with either internal business units or external partners and providers.”

Mark will also emphasise that an API, by exposing data and functionality, can be utilised as a core tool for building business relationships. “This will help provide a business with opportunities to enter new customer markets, to customize products and services faster with lower costs, and identify what new customer demands might come out of how you’re currently providing products and services.”

He is eager for more businesses to begin treating APIs as core products in and of themselves, with developers as the customers. This tectonic shift in corporate attitude will, he thinks, mean businesses will start to put greater value on the strategies surrounding them, and show greater interest in the impact these strategies provide. Moreover, it will help move the industry away from, “Vanity metrics focussed just on the fact that someone has accessed your service,” and towards actually showing that it’s helping grow the business.  

See Mark’s talk at DevRelCon London 2017 on December 6th.


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