Identifying API use cases in government

Many government departments are either planning their API participation or currently on the journey. And while they may be looking at specific use cases for API implementation, the question still arises: what are the other potential uses within their industry?

What is a modern API?

API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface – a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to one other. Originally, APIs were often extremely complicated and not really meant for wide consumption. With this traditional view of APIs, it would be easy to see how API implementation could be seen as too complex to be of widespread benefit to a government organisation.

These days, however, API application is much more than a difficult-to-use and implement technical concept. Modern APIs are easy-to-understand interfaces for a recognisable business asset—for example, a customer record, an account or an order. They are also much simpler for application developers to use, access, understand and invoke.

API identification process

Identifying good APIs is one of the most critical factors in achieving API initiative success. APIs must focus on the needs of the customer and should be simple. Rather than focussing on the systems of record, the first questions need to be: who is the target audience and what do they want?

Like with any new initiative or technological transformation, government organisations exist to serve citizens. Therefore, organisations need to place citizen needs at the forefront of their discussions with regards to API adoption. Many organisations incorrectly define their APIs by looking at what the systems of record do and adding an API in front of them. This approach may simplify the process for the API provider, but it does not meet the needs of the citizen.

If the API identification is focussed on citizen needs, then the interface is more likely to be useful to those users – understanding what the citizen is trying to accomplish can result in the best API.

A modern API example: Service NSW mobile application

One of the best use cases of API in government may well be Service NSW’s mobile application (or app). When used via a mobile phone, the Service NSW app connects to the internet, sending data to a server. The server then retrieves that data, interprets it, performs the necessary actions and sends it back to the phone. The Service NSW app then interprets that data and presents the user with the information they wanted in a quick, streamlined and readable way.

API is the messenger between the user and the data servers. The Service NSW app provides benefits to its users in several ways: through general information, custom services and mobile advantages.

  1. General information

General information is information that is not tailored to the specific customer using the app. Service NSW lets users access general information through its app to provide a more contextual, personalized user experience. Access COVID-19 statistics by postcode
For example, the COVID-19 Assistance Finder offers up-to-date information regarding benefits, rebates and concessions available to citizens.

  1. Custom information

Custom information and transactions are tailored to the citizen using the app. These APIs require additional security to help ensure appropriate access. Service NSW’s mobile app offers an array of personalised and private information checks, such as access to digital licences, registration renewals and fine payment.

  1. Mobile advantages

One of the biggest perks to utilising an app on a mobile device is the ability for the app to work with the available technology on that device. Citizens using the Service NSW app on their phone can activate the functions of their phone in conjunction with APIs provided by the agency. A perfect example of this is the ability to scan QR codes in venues for Covid check in – users simply point their camera at the QR code, which automatically communicates with Service NSW’s app to check them in safely as securely.

Australian government agencies are becoming very active with their API adoption. As we move into the API economy, huge opportunities exist for new and innovative solutions. If your organisation has not begun its API journey, the time to do so is now.

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