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API Community Debates Governance versus Innovation

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The need for "API Governance" was a hot topic at the recent API Strategy and Practice conference, which brought together API practitioners and experts from a broad spectrum of startups, vendors and enterprises.

Lorinda Brandon, director of solutions strategy at Smartbear Software reported on the debate asking whether governance and innovation "had to be enemies." Lorinda notes that among the diversity of attendees at the conference there is still the same old gap between the enterprise and the start-up that we have come to expect. "For as long as I've been in the industry, the difference has always been around governance and process vs rapid innovation."

Lorinda observes that most of the technologists at the conference were there to drive innovation at the forefront of the new API ecosystem, but the big companies have pressures from customers who insist on reliability and quality. Lorinda wants a foot in each camp—how to innovate and "have fun" without the industry crashing on its head for want of process and quality controls. Lorinda concludes that "governance and innovation together could make perfect partners if we could figure out how to combine them."

API Evangelist Kin Lane and one of the conference organizers continued Lorinda's thoughts asking if there is a better word than "governance." Governance comes with both positive and negative connotations. Negative synonyms include: power, bureaucracy, authority, control. Conversely positive synonyms include: guidance, influence, coordination and standardization. Kin laments many executives don't understand that too much power and control can stifle innovation, that APIs need "oxygen" to grow and evolve before achieving a level of innovation.

This is reminiscent of a similar debate within the SOA community in early 2008 which was covered by analyst and author ZDNet's Joe McKendrick. Perhaps the problem is not inherent in the technology. Another ZDNet technology analyst and author, Dion Hinchcliffe says that innovation is not what you do, but the way you do it in his article Running Your SOA like a Web Startup.

One of the innovations APIs have over SOA is a stronger appreciation for collaboration, developer engagement and self-service—what Paul Fremantle, CTO of middleware vendor WSO2 refers to as the "no meetings" approach. It will be interesting to watch this debate and see if APIs fare better in the tradeoff between governance and innovation. What do you think?

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Community comments

  • Governance and innovation

    by chris haddad /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    The way to ensure policy compliance while maintaining innovation is through self-service provisioning and self-service subscription. Development and Operation (DevOps) teams specify service level tiers, usage rates, and subscription rules, and API consumers can safely explore, evaluate, subscribe, and use APIs in a safe and creative manner. I've recently written a blog post describing the intersection of application, service, and API governance: blog.cobia.net/cobiacomm/2013/04/09/application...

  • Re: Governance and innovation

    by Saul Caganoff /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Chris, thanks for your comment. I agree with your statement that:

    "Key governance challenges include...right-sizing governance practices (not too heavy or light)..."

    which is the key point in this article, how to foster interoperability and hence build a platform for innovation without killing the innovation bit.

    You also mention that governance platforms should encompass both design-time governance and runtime governance. I'm not convinced by this. I think perhaps a best-of-breed approach could be more beneficial for design governance versus runtime governance. What's your opinion?

  • Re: Governance and innovation

    by chris haddad /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    While every team will adopt governance in stages, having only design-time or run-time governance, but not both, leaves an organization with an incomplete plan to ensure reliable and secure IT conforming with policies. Teams follow a 'best-of-breed' or 'all-in-one' strategy is based on corporate principles, and either can be effective. 'Best-of-breed' challenges include integrating meta-data, policy, enforcement, and user experience across both design-time and run-time lifecycle phases. 'All-in-one' challenges include not compromising functionality for convenience and usability.

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