Nowadays, APIs are a global trending topic. In this era of globalisation, all apps depend on third parties to operate and this is where APIs play an important role, since they are the simplest way to enable access to in-house data.
An API enables interconnection between different organisational systems. Nowadays, the largest companies in the world, across all sectors (Netflix, Tesla, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, MasterCard, Amazon, Booking, Google, etc.) use them to expose data on which their services are based.
In banking, API implementation opens up new business development lines, such as creating an API that enables hire purchasing finance and charges the retailer using this API for each customer using the service, or offering an API that enables mortgage simulations and helps attract business through subscribers. APIs have become a product that no business today can – or should – overlook.
In this context, CaixaBank Tech is driving the renewal of CaixaBank’s and other group company apps through architectures based on REACT and API microservices, which also enables app transition to the cloud and adapting to new global standards. Like everything, however, the process needs to be done carefully.
API supervision: CaixaBank Tech API Team
As Spain’s largest bank, CaixaBank collaborates with a large number of suppliers and teams for its developments. Obviously, if every supplier and team designed and developed APIs without standards, the list of CaixaBank apps would not be standardised or coherent, leading to product and service design and implementation not having common elements and consumers’ user experience being very different in each instance.
For this reason, the API Team at CaixaBank Tech has been established to define the API style guide (API White Paper) and ensure compliance both at CaixaBank and group companies. On the one hand, the team supports everyone involved in creating APIs throughout the development cycle (modelling, design, implementation, quality assurance and testing). On the other, the API Team also support teams that need and use APIs to help in their discovery. In short, they are responsible for the API catalogue. They represent the first port of call when working with APIs.
The style guide is based on three fundamental pillars. The API REST standard and the API FIRST and API as a Product strategies. These three pillars are globally managed concepts that are applied in any field related to APIs.
In the world of APIs, REST (Representational State Transfer) is everything in developing services, since it is the best known and used standard thanks to its high efficiency. This means it is the standard chosen when it comes to helping internal and external users using the APIs in the CaixaBank Group catalogue. Complying with the core rules of this standard when designing APIs is so important that there are quality criteria to awarding certification that are very similar to energy certification for buildings. The possible certification ratings are C, B, A and A+, where C is the lowest level and only valid for very specific internal-use APIs, and A+ is the highest for APIs that fully comply with the REST standard and are certified for use by any user. The A+ level is the target for each and every API at CaixaBank Group.
The API First strategy comprises seeing APIs as the most important element since, at the end of the day, they are what customers will interact with. The API is the first app interface and begins with design and documentation to then develop the back-end, instead of setting up the entire back-end first to then adapt the API to what has been built. In this way, the technology infrastructure depends directly on the service design, instead of being a response to its development: APIs are modelled as part of the user interaction processes with the system.
In the API design phase, more time needs to be invested not just by the API owner team but also by stakeholders. All the work undertaken in this stage prior to writing the code is highly valuable, since investing to ensure a good design will be amply compensated through reduced costs and time in the development stage.
This strategy guarantees the API is self-descriptive and self-service; it is understandable even without any documentation; it is robust, making incorrect use very difficult, and coherent, easy to roll out and scalable. Furthermore, there are many benefits: both consumer and owner development teams are able to work in parallel thanks to mocks. In this way, product development time to market is cut, and there are fewer errors and a better guarantee of a good user experience.
Lastly, the API as a Product strategy establishes that we should treat our APIs as a product and act as their owner. This means that we need to put ourselves in the place of consumers and understand their needs, in order to aid simplicity, understanding and usability, and take advantage of user feedback to ensure ongoing improvement: APIs have their own life cycle. Adopting this strategy supports a service ecosystem that is able to more easily evolve and be used to quickly try new commercial ideas.
Committed to CaixaBank Group
As we have stated, CaixaBank is immersed in a highly important app transformation phase and everyone at CaixaBank Tech is really clear about the basis underpinning our work to implement this transformation: use the benefits of technology to improve customer service. As members of the CaixaBank Tech API Team, we constantly strive to meet the expectations of who we are and what we want to be: the nation’s number one bank and a benchmark technology company.