How Dun & Bradstreet Product Manages Their API

Here is a fascinating example of one company employing the techniques presented in Mark Boyd’s article in his Maximizing the ROI on Your API Series: Why To Treat and Manage Your APIs as Products. Learn how Dun & Bradstreet maintains and promotes its APIs. See how the company treats its API’s as products, considering them as necessary additions that are growing in strategic value.

When businesses start leveraging APIs to create new business opportunities, they often have a single use case in mind. They may be building a mobile app and want to make sure they do so in a way that allows them to reuse the components in other mobile or smart watch apps later. Or they may be opening up an API to a partner so they can access functionality directly rather than go through an account manager. Or perhaps the business wants to test the waters and see if a particular dataset or functionality can be exposed to third-party developers to create new apps and services beyond the company's core business.

In such use cases, APIs quickly prove themselves to be an incredible new opportunity for a business when designed right, whether that's measured by faster product development time, reduced costs of managing partnership relationships, or in creating an ecosystem of new products and services that strengthen current customer relationships and bring in new customer markets. So businesses start to ask, what else can we open by API?

As the API catalog grows, the APIs themselves become akin to products. They need to be managed across a product lifecycle: developers need help discovering the APIs, understanding the potential use cases, registering, being given support when they have questions, having their API usage managed within service limits, being informed when there are breaking changes to an API or when a new version is released, etc. As an API industrialization strategy emerges within a business where several APIs are being managed, the business needs to take a product management approach.

Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) provides company data intelligence to enterprises who are looking to uncover rich business intelligence around potential suppliers, financial risks, marketing automation, and other use cases. In recent years, the company has seen its data product move from being a direct sales channel to being requested more often for use by employing integrations where the datasets are plugged into the end user's preferred interface or data system. The company's D&B Direct APITrack this API is used to access D&B's commercial business intelligence database.

Many of the decisions discussed around making APIs into a product are visible directly from D&B's API developer portal. From a menu, developers can pick from one of several typical use cases for D&B's APIs. For example, source cost optimization (to identify potential procurement suppliers and compare their costs and service delivery). After making this selection, developers are shown the benefits and the typical workflow, and then they directed automatically to several APIs that will assist them in creating that functionality.

The Dun & Bradstreet API page showing a product management approach

An example of the Dun & Bradstreet API page that shows a product management approach.

Richard Jones, senior product manager at D&B, says that introducing product management at D&B was done in much the same way that McDonald's introduced its all-day breakfast menu. First, the company needed to rationalize its menu. In D&B's case, that was its range of API products. Then, in the same way that the McDonald's CEO was that company's advocate for the breakfast strategy, D&B had to identify an internal champion.

"Then we needed to prepare for a product management approach," says Jones. "We needed to look at having rate limiting, to manage the amount of transactions per day or per minute, and we had to look at managing which services are able to scale and which don't."

After this, Jones and his team mapped out what existing customers were using for their integrations and helped them migrate to D&B's new, rationalized APIs. As this was at first a small band of early adopters, D&B was able to gain some feedback on the most appropriate data structures from their customers before generating content and documentation to support developers using the new APIs. "Then it was about building excitement," said Jones. "We created a promotional strategy and reached out to those who had asked for this functionality."

To prepare for launch, everyone internally had to be trained, "especially the sales teams," says Jones. The company had to explain to them why encouraging customers to make use of D&B's API management approach was "better than what they had today." Finally, D&B had to institute feedback mechanisms to listen to what early adopters were saying, so that customers could become their greatest evangelists in the market.

Now that we have made all of the decisions necessary to align our business successfully with our API strategy, it’s time to move on to some of the technical decisions that come with APIs. Next, in “Part Nine: How to Choose Architectural Styles and Specification Formats For Your APIs” we look at the decisions you need to make regarding architectural styles and specifications.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities.
 

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