Would you like to be conveniently provided quotes from Kanye West? Or perhaps have up to date information of the weather on Mars? The internet is full of wacky data that can be shared through APIs.

APIs are software that connects two data sources, allowing for secure data sharing. The public sector uses APIs to share citizen data across different ministries and agencies, letting this information inform the government’s services.

GovInsider’s first ever interactive workshop ‘APIs in Public Sector: Promoting Collaboration, Enhancing Citizen Engagement’, explored this topic. Government officials and experts from Tyk gathered to discuss what’s needed to take public sector software to the next level.

Next level citizen experience

APIs allow for easier data sharing, which will then help improve the citizen experience, government officials identified. APIs act as a bridge between two different systems, allowing for more convenient sharing of information in two ways.

First, APIs provide a reliable and long-term method for data sharing between government agencies, they shared. They are more convenient compared to the manual forms that need to be filled out for ad hoc data requests, one official highlighted.

Citizens expect governments to know their needs, sometimes even better than they know themselves, one official noted. Data sharing is the only way to gain this level of understanding, he continued.

Second, APIs can help connect different government applications, allowing for more standardisation between sites. This makes sites feel similar and connected, so citizens can access multiple government services from one portal, they explained.

A central hub of control

Having a centralised platform to manage APIs was one key theme discussed at the workshop. A centralised platform helped a Singapore government agency, in a case study shared by James Hirst, COO of Tyk.

The agency had over 100 APIs in action but no standardisation between them, meaning they were overly complex and costly to maintain. The government organisation was also considering moving their systems to the cloud, and wanted to review their API security beforehand.

Adopting a centralised management platform helped the agency oversee their APIs and reduce that complexity, Hirst shared. The agency was also able to seamlessly move to the cloud as Tyk’s API platform is already comfortable with the cloud and its security.

There is “too much data everywhere” and improvements should be made to manage this data securely, shared one public sector official. Their agency had been using a single API for all its data sharing.

Instead of having one API to handle every task, a centralised system allows for multiple APIs to be adopted with their own unique security protections, participants discussed. One API could handle all the real time data, and be designed with specialised protections for that, for example.

The next step for governments

Public sector officials identified three key challenges that are slowing down the upgrading of their data sharing technology.

First, they shared concerns about a lack of expert support. In an event where APIs were not operating as expected, officials asked that experts demonstrate how to get the most out of the technology.

One official shared that his agency needed support in their task of sharing APIs with the public. The agency wanted its public APIs to be available through “self service” and required support in making them more easily accessible.

Second, API technology needs to be easily adopted, officials highlighted. They raised concerns about whether APIs would be easily integrated into their systems, especially as government data is often siloed.

Third, they discussed the challenge of cybersecurity. Citizens need to trust that their data is secure with the government, especially with more digital services on the way, officials emphasised.

Innovative technology in a government’s backend systems can boost data sharing and citizen centric services. However, agencies may have a better chance of tech adoption with a centralised platform and expert advice to support their efforts.