Best PracticesKeynote

#LegoGovernment : API-Enabled Government as a Platform

In the Harvard white paper on Digital Government Transformation Richard Pope provides a working definition of ‘GaaP’ – Government as a Platform.

“GaaP should reorganize the work of government around a network of shared APIs and components, open-standards and canonical datasets, so that civil servants, businesses, and others can deliver radically better services to the public more safely, efficiently, and accountably.”

He explores the topic through a summary round up of how this approach has been pioneered and adopted in countries like India, Estonia and the UK.

Our white paper builds on this, providing detailed blueprint analysis of GaaP implementations across the world.

#LegoGovernment – Plug and Play Service Design

GaaP is such a powerful approach because it address the root issue that inhibits integrated Government services.

Like all large enterprise organizations Governments are structured via rigidly delineated departments and agencies, and typically deploy their own dedicated IT for only their business processes, creating isolated silos. The DWP develops their own standalone IT systems, Tax and Healthcare does the same, … and so on.

As the Harvard paper describes:

“There is a lot of duplication in government. Generally, departments and agencies are vertically integrated, with each running its own version of a system (a public website, a payment gateway, a printing service, an address lookup, etc.) that’s similar but not identical to all the others. Platforms have been cited as a way to remove that duplication and break down organizational silos.

Siloed approaches to transformation don’t work,” Mike Bracken wrote in 2015. “Reinventing the wheel every single time we build a service has led to far too much duplication and waste. That’s not good enough.”

This is a critical point for those working in public sector service design. When we consider how services are actually delivered we see that the workflow processes that enable them cut across these silos, as illustrated through this simple example:

This sets the scene for the concept of “Lego Government”. Rather than the traditional approach of building Government services via dedicated line of business applications, they are created via coupling together modular components.

This PublicTechnology interview explores in detail how the DWP are working with APIs. For example when the NHS undertakes a real-time check for prescription charge exemption they call the DWP passport benefit API which validates the enquiry. They also perform this check for the Department for Education for free school meals entitlement and for local authorities for the disabled Blue Badge award.

They make the critical point that they endevour to reuse existing APIs wherever possible, and where they don’t they develop them via ‘microservices‘ – Small snippets of code intended only for this purpose. This enables very rapid solutioning, only four weeks in some cases.

Underpinning the business logic and service design layer the core technology architecture is the API Gateway platform.

As the DWP describes:

“Once we identified – or built – the API that met the requirement, we deployed it onto our current shared API Gateway which was already hosted in our internet-facing cloud. This meant that all the infrastructure was already in place so, once the API was tested and proven to be suitable, it could be deployed really easily through the existing shared infrastructure. Historically, the process of building the underlying infrastructure could take months; we deployed new APIs, or extended throughput on existing APIs within two days. This would not have been possible without the API Library or the shared API Gateway.”

Hosting their API gateway in a cloud environment allowed the team to scale up in near real-time, after completing assessment of forecasted API volumes. This microservices approach will build the pathway towards the future, with the hope that eventually they will be able to “join up services across government and one initiative is that we’re creating a central cross-government API Registry that will enable us to share what APIs we already have available, as well as being able to see what APIs other government departments have available.”

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