Why every organization should be API-first

25 May 2021
When you think of the insurance business, do you see a massive oak desk covered in stacks of paper contracts? Well, we’ve come a long way. Not only do we now have more minimalist work spaces, but we’ve also learned to cut back on the paper. The result—apart from saving a lot of trees—is more efficient ways of processing and sharing data. And this really is the key to success in our business.

Being a leading business today means knowing how to leverage IT and software development to improve every aspect of what you do.

Euler Hermes invests particularly heavily in APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. In short, an API is an intermediary platform between two software applications, which allows them to talk to each other.

You can think of the API like a website, but made to be read by a computer. If you build a regular website for humans, you will aim to provide your content in a way that is easy for a visitor to read and understand. And you’re going to use the language that the majority of your target audience will speak. Well, APIs do the same for computers: they provide content in a very structured and easy-to-understand way, so that it doesn’t need a lot of special knowledge or dedicated programming language to consume it. If you do that successfully, then it becomes easy for other developers to connect their own applications to your platform and consume the information you’d like to provide them.

APIs should be at the core of the digitalization of a business. They let you combine existing products into new services in an efficient way, and saves a business a lot of time and resources.

APIs connect different software systems for efficient data sharing. But for them to work smoothly, the people developing and using them need to be connected, too. This was not the case when I first started working with APIs back in 2007, but through trial and error, my team and I found a way to organize ourselves more efficiently.

In 2011, I finally got the opportunity to spearhead a group-wide strategy for customer-facing API services. We got rid of our old ‘silo’ organizational model, where a centralized IT team developed tools that no other departments could understand, let alone explain to clients. But the real revolution came when we started thinking API-first, with the system becoming the standard for all digital products we offer. This called for a complete reorganization of how our group works with IT.

Today, instead of having a centralized API team, Euler Hermes uses a squad-based structure. A squad is a small team of employees from different departments. The idea is to avoid organizational silos and share knowledge throughout the group. A squad will be set up to work on a particular customer-facing app, and will typically include a product owner, a tech lead and other members, depending on the complexity of the API.

Gone are the days when we tucked the API team away in the corner and nobody really understood or appreciated what they did. Now, our API developers collaborate with the wider IT team as well as sales and other departments.

Our colleagues in the wider Euler Hermes group have gone from not understanding the technology, to becoming its biggest champions. And our developers can now more easily understand our clients’ needs and offer innovative apps that really meet them. This organizational transformation has been critical to our success, and we are continuing to grow our capabilities as we learn even more from each other.

Sophie Rutard

Head of Doc management, Identity & Access management, API DevRel