How APIs Can Help Government Address Today’s IT Challenges

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, "Your Roadmap to IT Modernization."

Today, government IT teams are expected to deliver more services with fewer resources. Consequently, many agencies have prioritized legacy modernization, interoperability and shared service models as a means towards increasing IT delivery capacity.

But those approaches are easier talked about than executed. As agencies embark on legacy modernization, it becomes imperative to open up the existing technology so that new innovations can be delivered as needed in a secure way.

One way to do this? A new approach to integration, one centered around application program interfaces, or APIs. GovLoop sat down with Christopher Aherne, Vice President of Federal Sector at MuleSoft, a provider of a leading platform for building application networks.

“Legacy modernization is critical because legacy systems are relied upon everyday to fulfill vital government missions,” Aherne said. “Maintaining the status quo of these critical systems is very expensive and growing, consuming large portions of agency budgets and resources.”

Additionally, Aherne explained, with these old systems, there’s a perception that system integrity and security exists. But that may be because the systems are mostly kept locked and access is severely limited behind a firewall.

“The best strategy to solve these challenges is to leverage service abstraction techniques using technology and organizational processes that accelerate the pace of incremental change” Aherne said. “The modern service abstraction technique is the API.”

APIs are software intermediaries that allow two applications to talk to each other -- bundles of separate routines, protocols, security software and software assembly tools designed to speed up and simplify communications with computer devices, internet communication systems and organizational databases.

For example, when you use almost any smartphone application, the application connects to the Internet and sends data to a server. The server then retrieves that data, interprets it, performs the necessary actions and sends it back to your phone. The application then interprets that data and presents you with the information the user wants in a readable way. This is possible because the server defines a contract, allowing the application on your phone to communicate with it in a defined way.

And in terms of legacy modernization, APIs can be an enabler to reducing complexity, increasing security, maintaining system integrity, and driving the pace of incremental development towards modernization.

“Modern APIs are designed to give developers the ability to create such experiences quickly and effectively while maintaining the required security and policies of the backend systems of record,” Aherne explained.

This is important, given that today’s digital enterprise has to be change-ready as expectations, policies and new technologies are evolving at a much more rapid pace than in the past. The mindset has shifted from requiring users to adjust to the backend systems, to a strong desire for the backend systems to adapt better to what the business or mission requires.

“By pursuing an API-led connectivity strategy, where enterprise assets are available in smaller, reusable, secure building blocks, many of our customers have been able to rapidly modernize without having to make wholesale changes on the backend first,” Aherne explained.

MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform helps agencies achieve these goals by combining data integration with API lifecycle management on a single platform. Both of these capabilities are required to unlock data and services from legacy systems, and expose them in a secure and governed manner in a useable fashion for modern applications.

“MuleSoft provides the functionality required to address the full lifecycle of APIs and the ability to compose data for richer experiences. Furthermore, the platform affords full visibility, security and governance of the data exposed through APIs, without extra work needed on the developers or operators,” said Aherne. “API building blocks can be deployed on-premise within an agency’s data center, on a public or private cloud of the agency’s choice, or deployed on MuleSoft’s iPaaS as a service in the cloud.”

This specific combination of API lifecycle management, data integration and connectivity on a single platform allows an agency to deliver projects faster, respond quickly to changing requirements, and create new services, leveraging work already done.

The proliferation of cloud technologies and the growing IT delivery gap in federal government are forcing agencies to re-evaluate their approaches to IT. By using an API-led approach to address connectivity challenges faced by the federal government, IT teams can enable their agencies to better support citizen and department needs.

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