API-First Companies and What They Do Differently

Stefanie Shank
Published 07/27/2023
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API First CompaniesIt’s hard for anyone to imagine a world without APIs, including the average consumer or end user who may have never heard the term. APIs power so much critical functionality in the modern era that they’ve become the foundation of daily life.

There’s no way around it: we live in a digital-first era. In a time when nearly 75% of people say they would feel uneasy if they were to leave their phone at home and more than half have never gone more than 24 hours without it, APIs are in our lives from sunup to sundown.

Consumers may have little choice with APIs, but what about businesses? You may have heard the term API-first, but what does it mean for organizations?

What is an API-first Company?

API-first companies tick a few boxes regarding workflows and organizational structure. Some key elements include:

  • Availing APIs to customers and partners
  • Leveraging APIs to operate a large portion of company data
  • Clear protocols for discovering, organizing, and maintaining APIs
  • A well-defined and standardized process for building APIs
  • A keen understanding of the security risk of the API perimeter
  • Assurance that all APIs meet relevant regulatory requirements

Effectively, being API-first means your organization has its finger on the pulse of the APIs it uses and develops at all times. Regarding the latter, the API-first development model means that applications go through concept and development using services delivered by APIs.

To adopt an API-first development model, it’s imperative to prioritize APIs, understand the API lifecycle, and determine the role of APIs – public, private, and third-party – throughout organizations.

Prioritizing APIs means designing or building the API before developing your software. This approach enables developers to connect with other applications seamlessly and enriches your application-to-be.

Starting with the API in mind flips development lifecycles on their head, ensuring that the application is developed with value in mind rather than an afterthought. It also ensures that your APIs are well-maintained and improved over time.



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Public, Private, and Third-Party Partner APIs are crucial development and security strategy elements. Understanding the scope and role of public (openly available), private (internal use only), and partner (obtainable only for select partners, customers, or users) APIs means ensuring high levels of security and usability.

Benefits of an API-first Approach

While at first glance, an API-first approach may seem like an upheaval of current processes, there are benefits for developers and the organization for making the switch.

Developers taking an API-first approach can create more powerful, more resilient software that adds true value to end users. It also enables developers to innovate while reducing the hours spent coding and debugging. By first looking at APIs, DevOps can design and build new products that are useful and impactful for organizations and end users.

Organizations, on the other hand, have benefits of their own:

Developer efficiency

API-first approaches enable developers and product teams to collaborate and work more effectively. Centralizing API work and establishing repeatable processes optimizes the development process while streamlining every aspect of the API lifecycle, leading to more productive and satisfied employees.

Testing and quality assurance

Leading with API development also improves software quality before it reaches production. Quality and security teams can test and resolve issues faster without security and user experience implications. It also frees these teams to work more effectively with developers.

Transparency and regulatory compliance

API-first adds a layer of transparency and visibility to your API design, organization-wide. Making APIs discoverable throughout your business can reduce the time and friction when responding to regulatory matters. It also ensures consistency and compliance and considers these elements at an early build stage, saving developers from break-fixing to fit the regulatory mold.

API security

API usage is on the rise, and with it, security incidents. A recent report showed that the average number of APIs per company had grown more than 200% in a 12-month span. In comparison, an alarming 95% of respondents stated they experienced an API security incident in the same period. The API-first approach takes security seriously.

With an API-first workflow, every microservice and API is put through a security scan in addition to existing measures in the development lifecycle. Every API – whether a minor service or major player – is scanned and evaluated at deployment or versioning across all teams.


Streamlining processes by eliminating development and testing bottlenecks means organizations and developers can innovate and create more freely. With smoother workflows, innovation can thrive, leading to richer feature sets, more valuable products, and better user experiences.

TL;DR – Five Steps to an API-first Approach

Let’s cut to the point: how do you start with an API-first approach and reap the above benefits? There are five important steps on this path:

  • Take inventory – understand what APIs you have, which ones you lack, and how (and where) they’re being used; this includes understanding public, private, and partner APIs.
  • Analyze your API development workflow – look at existing processes and understand what’s missing or needs improvement.
  • Examine your business profile – look at user groups and your organizational structure and map the boundaries of your organization; ensure you understand where the overlap is with partners and third parties, particularly those with access to critical data via APIs.
  • Create an API-first culture – shift your communication and approach across DevOps, DevSecOps, product, and engineering teams to let APIs take the lead.
  • Select a robust API security and development platform to help you standardize and execute.

About the Author

Stephanie Shank headshotStefanie Shank. Having spent her career in various capacities and industries under the “high tech” umbrella, Stefanie is passionate about the trends, challenges, solutions, and stories of existing and emerging technologies. A storyteller at heart, she considers herself one of the lucky ones: someone who gets to make a living doing what she loves. Stefanie is a regular writer at Bora.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.