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API governance is the definition and application of policies, standards, and processes to ensure the performance, reliability, and security of APIs. Learn more.


API Governance: An Ultimate Guide to What It Is, Why It Matters, and More

Posted by Angela Davis on April 24, 2024
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Back when APIs were in their infancy, API governance was considered to be a tedious, inhibiting formality. In the modern, cloud-first environment, that’s far from the case.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have become the building blocks of the digital landscape, accelerating integration by allowing independent systems to exchange data. APIs have the power to expose data and functionalities that skyrocket innovation and unlock new business value. 

But how can you be confident that your APIs are secure and compliant? With so many nuances to consider, how can you ensure consistency and reliability across the lifecycle?

This is where API governance comes in.

What is API governance?

API governance is the practice of defining enterprise-wide rules and policies that dictate how your APIs are used to encourage consistency, security, and compliance. 

It involves creating API governance standards and processes for every stage in the API lifecycle, from design, development, and testing to deployment, management, and retirement.

API governance encompasses both API security and API management strategies. 

Key components include:

  • Standardization: Outlining clear guidelines that specify API design, documentation, versioning, and error handling.
  • Security policies: Defining API security standards and policies that protect sensitive data from cyber threats and ensuring API compliance with regulations.
  • Lifecycle management: Ensuring the consistency and usefulness of APIs throughout their lifecycle stages.
  • Monitoring and analytics: Using real-time analytics to track and monitor the health, performance, and effectiveness of APIs and using the data to help APIs meet business goals.

Why does an API governance strategy matter?

APIs have become critical components of the modern cloud environment. They’re powerful strategic assets that improve business processes and end-user experiences through innovation, automation, productivity, and agility.  

Even businesses using legacy systems are leveraging APIs through a hybrid integration platform

But APIs are complex. They’re vulnerable to a number of issues, such as security threats, human error, API sprawl, performance bottlenecks, and redundancy. 

Security and compliance are two of the principal concerns for businesses. A recent study shows that 94% of companies experienced a production API security problem, most commonly a vulnerability, authentication issue, or sensitive data exposure issue.

Bar chart showing the security problems businesses face in production APIs, with 41% reporting a vulnerability in the past 12 months

Image source

API governance puts rules and processes in place to mitigate risks and, in turn, ensure API quality, security, and consistency. It enforces strict documentation, access controls, automated testing, compliance adherence, and other activities that harden APIs against threats.

Good governance also gives you a competitive edge. It unlocks access to a portfolio of reliably reusable assets. Assets that can be leveraged to create APIs to seamlessly integrate systems and help you achieve business goals. This is all while accelerating volume and time to market.

API management best practices

To maximize the effectiveness of API governance, there are several best practices to follow when designing and implementing your API management strategy:

Apply governance at every stage of the API lifecycle

It’s common for businesses to only implement API management during development or deployment. This, however, can lead to the mass glossing over of critical issues early on in the lifecycle. 

If you allow bottlenecks and roadblocks to crop up in the later stages, you risk slowing down productivity and increasing your time to market.

Apply API governance across your entire API lifecycle—from planning, design, and testing to maintenance and retirement. This holistic approach to API management not only implements stage-specific policies and processes, but it considers the dependencies that exist between each stage. 

As a result, you can maximize the integrity, consistency, and security of your APIs.

Set out a core set of API governance rules but leave room for flexibility

Your API governance framework should serve as the enterprise-wide foundation for your rules, policies, and standards. 

So, it should include a set of clearly defined rules that everyone in your enterprise can confidently refer to. For example, it’s critical to have:

  • API coding standards, such as the OpenAPI standard.
  • An API style guide that defines naming conventions, description formats, and request and response protocols.
  • Access controls and user permissions.

That said, your API governance rules should still be designed to accommodate flexibility. 

In the era of fast-paced technological evolution, rigid frameworks can hinder your ability to evolve and scale in response to changing needs. So, devise an adaptive governance model that allows for a degree of leniency and exceptions to ensure that your APIs remain agile and responsive.

Combine automated checks and manual reviews

Automation has made its mark on API management. But while automation can (and should) be implemented across the entire API lifecycle, testing and reviewing are two areas where automation efforts should be focused to drive benefits.

Automating your testing, validation, and review processes eliminates inefficient manual tasks and, in turn, eliminates the time constraints and human errors that lead to vulnerabilities and quality issues. 

When asked by Perfecto what the most time-consuming activity was in the testing cycle, the majority (35%) of respondents said “manual testing”:

Bar chart showing that 35% of respondents consider manual testing to be the most time-consuming part of the testing cycle

Image source

Instead of trawling through the tedious manual testing process, developers can engage in more analytical, strategic activities that transform good APIs into elite APIs. 

Automation, though, shouldn’t completely replace manual processes—far from it, in fact. Adopt a collaborative approach in which automated API management duties are supplemented and fine-tuned with manual tests, validations, and reviews. 

Manage APIs using a holistic, private catalog

A private API catalog is a highly organized library of your enterprise’s APIs. 

Its main purpose is to facilitate API reuse, but it also maximizes API visibility to allow you to optimize governance, manage and track lifecycles, and limit code redundancies. 

Creating a private catalog that centralizes your internal APIs can give you deeper insight into your governance strategy and drive improvements. 

Ensure that your API catalog is designed to offer a holistic view of your API artifacts. It should go beyond the basic technical specifications to capture the complexities and nuances of your APIs, including data maps, transformations, dependencies, usage, and ownership.

API governance tools: What are they and what do they do?

API management platforms and governance tools centralize your complex API ecosystem into a singular platform. This centralization helps you streamline the process of designing, testing, developing, deploying, managing, and securing your APIs. 

Typical features of a full-lifecycle API management platform include:

  • Developer portals
  • API gateways
  • Designing and building support
  • Analytics and reporting
  • Access and authentication controls

API management systems are renowned for successfully automating and streamlining API governance, making them an essential asset to your tech stack. 

However, in the case of hybrid integration—connecting legacy systems to modern cloud environments—there are some legacy-specific challenges that must be accounted for before you leverage API management tools to execute a governance strategy.

Legacy API governance issues

APIs help you modernize your legacy systems and extract the most value from their data and services. But for businesses wishing to integrate their legacy systems with cloud applications, there are some legacy-specific API challenges that you should be aware of.

Performance bottlenecks

Unless you implement a host of strategic caching mechanisms, legacy systems can become performance bottlenecks. Caching mechanisms store frequently accessed data and responses, reducing the volume of requests being sent to the legacy system and amplifying response times. 


Security measures and standards are constantly evolving. Without strict API governance, legacy systems could be governed by outdated policies and standards, which puts them at risk of malicious data breaches. 

User permissions and access controls need to be consistently reviewed and updated to mitigate this risk.


API logs—such as access logs, security logs, error logs, and performance logs—chronologically record the request and response interactions made by your API. This includes endpoints, query parameters, timestamps, errors, status codes, and request/response contents. 

API logging is fundamental to the monitoring, optimization, and continuous improvement of API health, performance, compliance, and quality. 

Legacy systems can lack the transparency needed to achieve full traceability and visibility into API request journeys. Thus, leaving your logs incomplete and unable to offer the insights you need.

Fortunately, the challenges of legacy API management can be eliminated with APIzation—the low-risk way to integrate and modernize your existing legacy assets with robust APIs.

OpenLegacy can augment your API governance platform for legacy-specific governance

OpenLegacy works alongside your API governance platform to help you tackle and overcome legacy-specific API governance challenges.

Automatic generation of low code and no code APIs ensures standardization, regardless of developer skill level. Automation, meanwhile, removes human error from API creation and so eliminates vulnerabilities that could make APIs less secure.

The OpenLegacy Hub, too, provides visibility into the building blocks of APIs, promoting a standard, modular approach. This allows for reusability and reduces the skill variance needed to deal with complex integrations.

Augment your API governance and management platforms with OpenLegacy’s application integration platform to mitigate legacy API integration and governance challenges as you modernize.

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