Application programming interfaces (APIs) are the building blocks developers use for crafting the applications that feature daily in modern life.
API strategies are a core activity in business as the technology boosts app flexibility, maintainability, speed and scalability while shrinking costs. Governments hoping for the same benefits should map how their APIs will improve the services they deliver to citizens.
“Digital transformation has become a key mandate in many organizations,” Monica Hockelberg, Red Hat’s Sr. Integration Specialist, said during an Aug. 2 GovLoop online training on how to create an effective API strategy. “Public-sector organizations have realized that maintaining legacy systems is expensive.”
When it comes to developing an API strategy, “You have to look at it kind of like the buyer’s journey in the private sector. It’s the citizen’s journey.”
Hockelberg said governments can use APIs to generate the same accessible, secure apps private companies use to deliver rapid, useful services to citizens.
“By digitizing, governments can meet the evolving demands of citizens,” she said. “Not only do citizens often prefer digital services in their interactions with government, but these interactions can broaden their involvement with government at large. Adoption is really key. Many applications succeed only if they are widely adopted and affect a change in behavior.”
David Codelli, Red Hat’s Product Marketing Manager, recommends that agencies base their API strategies on making services approachable for users.
“One of the key indicators of success is how easy it is to use,” he said. “How fast can you get people excited and viral with your APIs to get that critical mass of developers and users?”
What’s most important is the value of the API, not the volume of the API or the speed of the API, Codelli added. “How fast can you make services available? How fast can your developers capitalize on those services?”
Hockelberg said that thriving API strategies also need backing from agency leaders who understand the technology’s benefits. “When you’re selecting tools, it’s really selecting the right projects and the right stakeholders,” she said. “It’s getting business buy-in. Do the work and analysis to explain the value to the types of folks handling the budget for those initiatives.”
Hockelberg added that baking cybersecurity into agencies’ API plans is crucial for protecting citizens’ data.
“When you’re dealing with citizen data, you’re dealing with information that requires special handling,” she said. “You need to understand the information you’re handling, but also how you use and transport it. It’s balancing the collection of personal information and the need to not disclose that data.”
Codelli said the people, platforms and processes behind agencies’ APIs would help them achieve the organizational change for reaping the best returns from their technologies. He noted that APIs should be cloud-native for deployment in public and private clouds, and they also benefit from distributed integration products.
In terms of APIs and the cloud, Hockelberg said that APIs help agencies better utilize Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) programs where software is licensed by subscription and centrally hosted.
“The backend systems that aggregate the data create new opportunities for their citizens,” she said of SaaS models. “There’s a lot of value to that data today that organizations are probably not getting because it’s in silos. It improves insights, outcomes and decision-making.”
Hockelberg added that agencies making the most of API strategies and SaaS programs would deliver their citizens more satisfying services.
“Government agencies that are able to handle the end-to-end journey more successfully report higher user satisfaction,” she said.
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