The Importance Of A Government API Phase

I’m stepping back and trying to understand more about where we are at in the history of APIs. Looking at the API space in terms of our past, provides me with a healthier understanding of where we are currently, and where things are possibly headed. I tend to not get blinded by the shiny new technology that surrounds us, hopefuly allowing me to see a bigger picture.

I just wrote about how I feel we are in what I would call the enterprise phase of APIs, where large companies, not just tech startups are seeing the benefit of web APIs. I think there will still be lots of innovation from startups, but to take the API economy to the level, where it is truly part of the global economy, the enterprise has to get on the train.

These phases of API evolution don’t happen one after another, they overlap, with commerce, social, cloud and mobile all feeding into what is attracting large global enterprises to APIs, while all these sectors also need the enterprise to get on board--everything is interconnected. As with the enterprise layer of the API economy, I think the recent increased government awareness of APIs, is just as significant as the attention we are seeing from the enterprise.

While writing my post about the the enterprise phase, I noticed that I’m speaking with just as many federal agencies as I have been from the enterprise. I can’t help but look at this movement in government alongside the big moves from the enterprise. Many folks aren’t seeing the movement they’d like to from our government when it comes to APIs, but even though things aren't perfect, we are seeing big movement from all levels of government when it comes to open data and API, with over 75 federal agencies deploying APIs.

In the last month, I’ve talked to numerous federal agencies about their API strategies, beyond just open data—I mean census, regulatory, patent, education, healthcare and other commerce stimulating aspects of our federal government, the big stuff. Thanks to the hard work of many open data and API savvy tech folks, the word is out across all levels of government, and people are asking for APIs. Citizens, leaders, other agencies, and even other countries are asking for simple web API access to our vital public resources, and the government is having to step it up.

Much like the enterprise phase I described last week needed social, cloud and mobile to make APIs work for the enterprise, I think it all will also depend on government having viable APIs. Much like our legacy economy, government and business work in concert, feeding each other—the API economy will be driven by not just the innovation of startups, and the global resources of the enterprise, it will depend on our government being machine readable by default.

Businesses will need to be able to efficiently monitor regulations, file and pay taxes, navigate the world of patents, and not just when they are required to interact with government—businesses need to be able to obtain resources from government in a frictionless, and beneficial way. Individuals will need to be able to apply for loans, file and pay taxes, and engage with government via their mobile devices and laptops--APIs will faciliate all of this.

When it come to the API economy, I am always stating that we can’t just look at the technology of APIs, we have to look at the business and politics of APIs. As we try to understand where we are at, and where we are going, we have to look beyond the tech, understand that we not just need the enterprise on board, we also need the government to be up to speed on APIs, otherwise the rest of the space will suffer, and the API economy will sputter along, never quite achieving its full potential.