API first: Shifting how government delivers services
- By Brett Michaels
- Jul 03, 2014
One of the pillars of the Obama administration’s Digital Government Strategy is to “enable the American people and an increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.”
But most internal and citizen-facing government systems were not built with mobile in mind. The user interface is often tightly coupled to the backend, making it difficult to build a mobile app that has the same functionality as the client it was originally designed for.
But it’s too expensive to redesign and recreate the millions of government systems already in existence, so how can IT managers unlock the data and services in government systems without recreating them?
The API tier – a simple interface to a complex system
APIs, or application programming interfaces, let agencies open existing systems, improve efficiency and encourage innovation across the government.
The API tier is an API infrastructure that provides a façade that masks the complexity of back-end systems and enables the exposure of data and services to make it easier for developers to build apps. It provides the functionality to securely transform back-end services into easily consumable APIs and analytics. It also delivers end-to-end visibility across the entire digital value chain (from apps to back-end systems) and provides a framework to support developer adoption and accelerated development of apps.
Government agencies can rely on an API tier to provide a simple interface to complex internal systems, future-proofing government investment and making it easy to deliver services on a new device or interface. The API tier avoids the need to rip and replace existing systems and articulates the data and services in those systems, making them useful and consumable by app developers.
An API tier also delivers the same services to related apps and offers increased security and visibility. Since all consumed data flows through an API tier, it’s possible to have very fine-grained access control and analytics of the consumption of agencies services.
An API tier allows a large number of apps to access content and data from internal systems:
- In a way that can be scoped to individual users with appropriate levels of access control.
- Where the data is shaped to exactly the size and format necessary for ease of app development.
- Where the data can be validated or processed with lightweight logic and combined from or distributed to multiple sources and services.
- Where deep analytics can measure developer productivity and app and API usage as well as provide business-level insights.
- Where frequently accessed data is cached, mitigating downstream processing needs.
As government agencies revolutionize how the public sector delivers services to employees and citizens, they will benefit from thinking “API first.”