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Kristof Van Tomme - Beyond API Spray & Pray: The Role of Developer Portals in Digital Transformation

API the Docs Virtual Event Series 2020 Recap

This talk was presented at API The Docs Virtual 2020 event series on 8 April. We are glad to present the video recording, slide deck and talk summary below. Enjoy!

Visit our talk recaps ToC page for an overview of all presentations!

Kristof Van Tomme

CEO at Pronovix

Kristof's presentation (video recording)


Kristof's slides

How do we go beyond the basic infrastructure? How to make the API program and its devportal part of the overall strategic effort?

A developer portal is a crucial infrastructure, it is an interface to interfaces to organize and direct your digital transformation.

Technology is just a tool. You can have the best API platform, the best developer portal, you still need to develop and adjust your strategy together with them to make the most of the technology.

"A great devportal should be like a toolbox: with different compartments for different building blocks, organized in a hierarchical structure for your APIs." Matthias Buescher

What is digital transformation

Methodologies and technologies in themselves (paperless documents, CRM, Agile, AI, DevOps, OS, InnerSourcing,) can give great constraints to help you to create new behavior.

Real digital transformation is about the transformation of businesses. APIs play a key role in this.

Digital transformation is a response to two macro-economic shifts:

  1. Replacing physical proximity to digital proximity.
  2. Shifting market complexity from seemingly static to unmistakably dynamic.

Complex Adaptive Systems are the best way to collaborate with a set of peers that are learning and evolving together. Beehives, ecosystems are such emergent systems.

Developer portals can be an interface to help you tune for complexity. Hypothesis:

“Through your developer community a devportal can help you tune your company for increased complex adaptive behaviour.”

Types of developer portals

  • Ecosystem devportal
    • Resilience, adaptivity
    • Level of constraint: mixed
    • Network: decentralized
    • Market focus: internal, industry
    • Business model: strategic
  • Platform devportal
    • Make something hard easy
    • Level of constraint: open
    • Network: centralized
    • Market focus: enablement
    • Business model: transaction/subscription
  • Apps/integration devportal
    • Whole product strategy
    • Level of constraint: high
    • Network: centralized
    • Market focus: no-code extensions
    • Business model: referral, subscription cut
  • Digital marketplace
    • Transaction laser focus
    • Level of constraint: complete
    • Network: centralized
    • Market focus: Narrow focus
    • Business model: Monopolistic market power
    • NOT a devportal! A developer’s intent is not to “buy an API”, but to solve a very specific problem.
  • Market edge devportals
    • Transaction laser focus
    • Level of constraint: medium
    • Network: edge
    • Market focus: Narrow focus
    • Business model: cut on monetisation, Future aggregator
  • Procurement devportals
    • Optimization and Resilience
    • Level of constraint: high to guarantee interchangeability
    • Network: reverse platform
    • Market focus: competing vendors
    • Business model: vendor cost management
    • A model for autonomous APIs?

What are we ultimately building? Especially in large corporations, it would be an internal ecosystem that is supporting maybe a platform. On top of that platform is an external ecosystem, maybe with a couple of apps internally, and externally too. You combine the various types of systems.

Complex Adaptive Systems architecture

  • APIs are signal-boundary systems:
    • Separate services behind APIs to break them free from silo constraints.
    • Improve adaptivity through faster information cascades in smaller teams.
  • Create deliberate complexity where needed:
    • “Alternate layers of high and low constraints in systems, to maximize both adaptivity and efficiency.”
  • Use the inverse Conway's Law to help reshape your systems.

See last slides of the presentation for further recommended books.


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