How to plan any API integration project (4 steps)

Building and providing integrations for your customers can be a time-intensive and challenging process. 

What can make it easier? Working off of an API integration project plan. 

We’ll share 4 steps that can help you build a robust plan for any API integration project. And while these steps are geared toward customer-facing integrations, they can also be used for internal integration projects as well. 

Related: How to come up with your API integration strategy

1. Determine your API integrations

Before diving head first into your API integration project, it’s important to determine your integration needs; more specifically, what software categories do you want to provide product integrations for? 

You have several software categories to choose from, including:

  • Accounting/payments processing
  • File Storage
  • CRM 
  • Ticketing
  • HRIS/Payroll

Once you pinpoint the categories, you can determine the specific applications you want to connect to. From there, you should have a pretty clear idea of which developers need to get involved, how many developers need to be included, and a feasible timeline for implementing the integrations. 

2. Define your goals and your team's action items 

Once you’ve decided on the types of integrations you want to offer your customers, you’ll need to define your project goals and decide on action items for the team. 

It’s good to break these two categories out:

Developer action items 

  • Who on your team will develop the API integrations? 
  • What are the day-to-day tasks that need to be completed by your development team to reach your overall goals? 
  • Who/what team will monitor and maintain the API integrations after it’s been shipped? 

Business goals

  • The number of integrations that go live within a certain time period
  • Revenue growth attributable to your integrations
  • Customer satisfaction improvements attributable to your integrations 

You’ll obviously want your action items and goals to be much more specific; for example, specific stakeholders should be listed in the action items section while the business goals should have metrics and timeframes laid out to keep your team accountable. 

In addition, it’s worth documenting these goals and action items in a central location to prevent any confusion. It’s only once everyone is on the same page that they’ll be fully motivated to meet these goals.

Related: The steps for building API integrations

3. Prepare for challenges

As you continue to plan your API integration project, it’s important to understand and prepare for the challenges that’ll arise as you scope and build the API integrations. 

Based on a study we ran with Atomik Research, a 3rd-party market research firm, which involved surveying hundreds of product managers and engineers on the integration challenges they’re running up against, we saw 4 major challenges teams are running into when building API integrations.

The top challenges of building and API integrations

Let’s dig into these a little more: 

Integration performance

API performance is a multifaceted issue that extends beyond just speed. It encompasses various aspects, such as the time required for data synchronization, data accuracy, and more. To overcome performance-related challenges, consider:

  • Optimizing data handling: Implement efficient data handling techniques to minimize latency and enhance integration speed.
  • Asynchronous processing: Instead of waiting for a synchronous response from the API, your system can initiate the API call and then continue executing other tasks while it waits. 
  • Rate limit management: Understand and adhere to rate limits imposed by APIs to ensure consistent performance.
    Difficult to scale

As you select APIs to integrate, scalability becomes a significant concern. Developers may need to invest substantial effort in comprehending API documentation, writing custom code for each integration, and thoroughly testing them. To tackle scaling issues:

  • Standardize integration practices: Develop consistent integration methodologies and best practices to streamline the process.
  • Use integration platforms: Consider using integration platforms and tools that simplify the development and management of multiple integrations. While we’ll cover this more later, a universal API platform can be ideal.
  • Collaborate with vendors: Establish a communication channel with API vendors to ensure any of your team’s questions and issues can be addressed during the integration process.

Challenging to secure partnerships with 3rd-parties

In certain scenarios, especially when dealing with larger organizations, establishing formal partnership agreements with vendors is a prerequisite for accessing their API documentation and obtaining sandbox accounts for their platforms. To navigate partnership challenges:

  • Early engagement: Initiate discussions with potential partners early in the project to allow ample time for negotiations.
  • Legal expertise: Seek legal advice to ensure partnership agreements are aligned with your project's goals and expectations.
  • Alternative data sources: Explore alternative data sources or APIs that don’t require extensive partnership agreements if feasible.

Related: A guide on API integration best practices

API documentation is hard to access and use

API documentation accessibility and usability can present significant obstacles. Beyond securing partnerships, other burdens may include language localization, difficulty navigating documentation, and outdated information. To address these challenges:

  • Language localization: If documentation is not available in your preferred language, consider employing translation services or seeking vendor assistance.
  • Navigation improvement: Advocate for improved document structure and search capabilities, or create your own supplemental documentation to facilitate easier access to specific information.
  • Version tracking: Maintain a vigilant watch on API version updates and seek assistance from the vendor or the community to bridge information gaps between documentation versions.

Incorporating these tips into your API integration project plan will fortify your preparations and equip you to overcome the challenges of integration performance, scalability, partnership acquisition, and documentation accessibility. By doing so, you'll be better positioned to execute successful API integrations while mitigating potential roadblocks.

Related: How to overcome the challenges of building and managing product integrations (3 real-world examples)

4. Plan for monitoring and maintaining your API integrations

The final step in our API integration project plan is to prepare for monitoring and maintaining your customer-facing API integrations

Building your API integration is just the initial step. Once you’ve shipped an integration, you and your team will need to keep tabs on any issues that arise, and fully commit to addressing them quickly so that they have minimal impact on your clients (and their clients).

Here's what you can do to set a strong foundation for monitoring and maintaining your API integrations:

Set clear monitoring objectives

Before launching your API integrations, define specific monitoring objectives (e.g. response times to specific integration issues). This can help set the expectations for your team and your clients.

Use comprehensive monitoring tools

Select robust monitoring tools that provide real-time insights into your API integrations. These tools should offer features like alerting, analytics, and reporting. Consider using tools like New Relic, Datadog, or custom solutions that fit your project's requirements. Integrate these tools into your system to continually track performance and health.

Documentation and knowledge sharing

Maintain detailed documentation of your API integrations, including how they work, the configurations you've built, and potential issues that've occurred previously. Also, ensure that your team has access to this documentation. This can help foster knowledge sharing and prevent knowledge gaps should any team members leave.

Consider a unified API solution

If you’re starting to feel that embarking on an API integration project is (very) daunting, don’t worry. There are a handful of different products you can use that minimize the challenges of building API integrations, scaling them, and maintaining/monitoring them. 

A unified API, which allows your team to access multiple integrations in a given software category from a single API, can be particularly helpful. Especially if it can also address integration maintenance and monitoring through features like logs and automated issue detection.

You can learn more about unified APIs and see the leading platform in the space, Merge, in action by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.