Open APIs are the sexiest thing to ever happen to government services

Andrea is TNWs Branded content editor and has written on a variety of topics, including AI, ClimateTech, and gender bias. Andrea is TNWs' Branded Content editor. She has covered many topics, including AI, ClimateTech, and gender bias. She is always looking for stories that examine the political and social impact of emerging technologies.Although we have the technology to send rovers out to Mars and explore the deepest oceans, it can take many days to move to new cities, open a business or complete any other task that requires multiple government agencies. These are the moments that make well-adjusted people into the psychopaths and future leaders.Even though traditional industries such as agriculture and big banks have seen a technological boom thanks to fintech and other agritech startups the government has largely been left behind.However, the push for open API development is changing all that. It's not just citizens who will be benefited. Entrepreneurs and companies that have the vision to tap into publicly available government data can create sticky solutions to their users' everyday problems. Have you ever used a traffic or weather app? All of these apps use APIs that allow users to get real-time updates.Beyond these possibilities lies a deeper question. What rights are available to citizens in the age of GDPR and personal data? What effect can public access to this data have on society?The Netherlands launched its API portal in 2016 as part of a push for bringing the government into 21st-century technology. TNW spoke to Frank Terpstra (Senior Advisor at Geonovum), a foundation that aims to improve access and use of geo-information.APIs have a significant impact on admin BS, and I love it!An API (application programming interface) is a way for different systems to query each other and share data.Skyscanner is a flight booking site that allows you to simply enter your destination and dates. The platform will then show you all available flights within these parameters. You may not see the communications network that takes place behind the scenes.The platform must communicate with other airlines websites such as Alitalia, KLM and Lufthansa in order to determine what is available. This is done using APIs.A government API portal in the Netherlands means that different government offices can quickly and easily share information via APIs. The municipality offices can share your information with ease if you move from Amsterdam or the Hague. This makes the registration process easier and less time-consuming.Terpstra stated that APIs make data sharing more efficient and precise.Municipalities make copies of useful information when they find it. They create their own data store to keep all the data. They then start to run their parallel processes and do database queries using this information. Local copies are often slightly out of sync, and may not always be 100% accurate. This is also inefficient as you are making duplicates of entire data sets when you only need a few bits of information. APIs, on the other hand, are a tremendous enabler that allows the computer systems in municipalities to directly query the source.Open access is a greater collaboration between the government, developers, and businessesIt allows for more efficient and smoother communication between government agencies. The switch to APIs opens up public access and data for government, which makes it easier for new entrepreneurs and companies to create solutions using government data. Terpstra explained this:The platform economy was born with platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google in 2008-2009. Platforms did something different than other systems in that they heavily relied on APIs to expose their content and their functionality to the world.Developers are familiar with APIs, and so is the market. Because all of our standards and systems were based upon SOAP and XML, we decided to change that. However, society was not expecting this. If you ask ten developers to give you a SOAP/XML exchange, only one person might be able to answer. It is likely that everyone will be able and willing to exchange data using APIs if you ask.Platforms allow you to do what you are good at while letting others do what they do best. This is done by opening up data via an API. There is an API behind every share button you see on Facebook. They are leveraging their platforms so that everyone can work on their technology, and spread it. The Key Register of Addresses and Buildings in the Netherlands is one of the most used government APIs. You can make it easy for customers to find the closest store or fill in delivery details if you own a web-based business. All they have to do is enter their postal code. Then, the rest of the address will be filled in automatically. Although this key registry is available to all, it was not widely used because it was only compatible with SOAP or XML. Within a year of the API's launch, the API had outperformed the previous seven years of data delivery. This is a great example of how you can reach more people if you change the technology you use, Terpstra stated.Data democracyThe government has created the Developer Overheid website, where developers can access the APIs of the government for free to facilitate this transition. It's not about just providing access. Developers can also use the forum to share their innovative uses of this data, and help shape the government's API strategy based upon what the public needs.The Covid dashboard API, for example, provides current information on infection rates and the number of vaccines.External expectations are that APIs will be used. This is why we need to transform IT systems to support them. Terpstra also stated to TNW that the government should make its resources more easily available to the rest.Saskia Stuiveling was the former President of The Netherlands Court of Audit. She was an active participant in the push for effective accountability, transparency and (technological?) modernization of government. Her view is that taxpayers have already paid for open information once so why should they pay again?The government established the Stuiveling Open Data Award. The award is presented each year to a public or private entity that uses open data in a creative way to address current social challenges. This award encourages collaboration between government and public agencies to provide better solutions for the public.Movimaps was last year's winner. This API measures bicycle safety by looking at bicycle accidents and how they are related to bicycle use. Although it seems simple, this information will be useful in discussions about e-bike regulations, and safety for elderly riders.The possibilities are limitless. Developers can search the Rijksmuseum's collection, zoom in to see close-ups and view historical works of art. APIs were used by individuals to create maps showing the locations of urban farming projects and some of the most beautiful outdoor art in Amsterdam.What could APIs do to facilitate cross-border collaboration?Not only the Netherlands, but many other countries are creating open API strategies. This could facilitate cross-border cooperation, from allowing free movement between countries to monitoring progress on climate changes.Another important issue is the creation of vaccination passports. This will require inter-governmental cooperation as well as data sharing. APIs may be a great solution to the problem of sharing and verifying current vaccination data.It is important to note that the government wants it to be an open-ended project. This will allow all stakeholders to participate in making the API strategy as useful and accessible as possible to the public. Participate in the public consultation about API design rules. It is open to all, regardless of whether you are a business owner or an individual who wants to influence the future API strategy. The consultation will last until August. For more information on upcoming sessions, visit the Developer Overheid site.