The Office Of Inspector General for US Postal Service published an audit report on the federal agencies API strategy, which has opened their eyes to the potential of API management, and the direct value it can bring to their customers, and their business. The USPS has some extremely high value APIs that are baked into ecommerce solutions around the country, and have even launched an API management solution recently, but until now have not been actively analyzing and using API usage to guide them in any of their business planning decisions.
According to the report, “The Postal Service captures customer API usage data and distributes it to stakeholders outside of the Web Tools team via spreadsheets every month. However, management is not using that data to plan for future API needs. This occurred because management did not agree on which group was responsible for reviewing and making decisions about captured usage data.” I’m sure this is common in other agencies, as APIs are often evolved within IT groups, that can have significant canyons between them and any business units. Data isn’t shared, unless a project specifically designates it to be shared, or leadership directs it, leaving real-time API management data out of reach of those business groups making decisions.
It is good to see another federal agency wake up to the potential of API management, and the awareness it can bring to business groups. It’s not just some technical implementation with logfiles, it is actual business intelligence that can be used to guide the agency forward, and help an agency better serve constituents (customers). The awareness introduced by doing APIs, and then properly managing APIs, analyzing usage, and building and understanding what is happening, is a journey. It’s a journey that not all federal agencies have even begun (sadly). It is important that other agencies follow USPS lead, because it is likely you are already gathering valuable data, and just passing it on to external partners like USPS has been doing, not capturing any of the value for yourself. Compounding the budget, and other business challenges you are already facing, when you could be using this data to make better informed decisions, or even more important, establishing new revenue streams from your valuable public sector resources.
While it may seem far fetched at the moment, but this API management layer reflects the future of government revenue and tax base. This is how companies in the private sector are generating revenue, and if commercial partners are building solutions on top of public sector data and other digital resources, these government agencies should be able to generate new revenue streams from these partnerships. This is how government works with physical public resources, there should be no difference when it comes to digital public resources. We just haven’t reached the realization that this is the future of how we make sure government is funded, and has the resources it needs to not just compete in the digital world, but actually innovate as many of us hope it will. It will take many years for federal agencies to get to this point. This is why they need to get started on their API journey, and begin managing their data assets in an organized way as the USPS is beginning to do.
API management has been around for a decade. It isn’t some new concept, and their are plenty of open source solutions available for federal agencies to put to use. All the major cloud platforms have it baked into their operations, making it a commodity, alongside compute, storage, DNS, and the other building blocks of our digital worlds. I’ll be looking for other ways to influence government leadership to light the API fire within federal agencies like the Office of the Inspector General has done at the U.S. Postal Service. It is important that agencies be developing awareness, and making business decisions from the APIs they offer, just like they are doing from their web properties. Something that will set the stage for future for how the government serves its constituents, customers, and generates the revenue it needs to keep operating, and even possibly leading in the digital evolution of the public sector.