Does Your Organization Have an API Strategy?

You can judge the sophistication of your new media or web group with the answer to the above question! OMB’s “Digital Government” edict requires each agency to publish data and content in at least two existing major customer-facing systems through web APIs by May 2013. But my vision for the agencies is to do much more – have a comprehensive API strategy and actually implement it.  Why?

 What is API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface and just like you interact with the computer through the graphical user interface, programs interact with other programs via APIs. APIs offer your organization the ability for internal and external application developers to access your unique content and data in an easy fashion, mixing and matching data from different sources and allowing “free” provisioning of valuable products and services around your API.  For example your favorite retailer uses its store location and the Google map APIs to allow you to search for the nearest store. Without Google map APIs the store would have needed to create its own map system!

 Why Have Agency API Strategy?

The Government has vast amount of unique and valuable content and data. If it “exposes” the right information through a “API strategy” both internal and external developers could utilize this feed, and perhaps combine it with other feeds from private sources to create innovative apps, new online products and citizen centric services – all without any additional cost to the government. Such new development will allow more utilization of government data and content for delivery of quick results. There is also strong revenue potential through partnerships.

API Deployment Platform Required

However, to achieve this vision organization’s leadership should encourage development and implementation of a strong API strategy including the deployment of an automated platform for API management.  As part of this platform agencies should enable an API Developers Portal with console, forums, as well as control and analytics center. Products such as Apiphany Government API Platform available through GSA Advantage and sold by LMC Data can be deployed in the cloud quickly and cost effectively. So if you are a government leader and are sitting on a lot of valuable content or data – be progressive and implement a holistic API strategy – not just two web APIs as OMB requires!

Expected Result?

API strategy with automated, dynamic “Developer Portal” can save money. The agencies do not have to build many of their apps. That gets delegated to the open source app developers at no charge to the agencies by simply providing secure, managed, automated access to agency data. In the last presidential election, Facebook, Microsoft, Bing, and many others used an API provided by Pew Charitable Trusts to service the voters’ millions and millions of API calls to find polling places, see voting requirements, and study the candidates’ backgrounds. Pew’s outlay for providing that access was very low, however, the new users and publicity secured for Pew was priceless!

About the author: Nitin Pradhan is the founder of Public Private Innovations, the nation’s first Federal technology accelerator and formally the CIO of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He can be reached via LinkedIn or followed on Twitter.