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How APIs enable e-government

Yves de Montcheuil | July 4, 2016
Paying parking tickets on the web is convenient, but API-fication is the real trigger of an e-government platform

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

A few weeks ago, as a director of Tech In France, I was invited to a fireside chat with the French "State CIO" (the French acronym is DISINC) Henri Verdier. Pushing aside from the usual controversies on the neutrality of Internet, open season on GAFAs and Safe Harbor/Privacy Shield, an interesting topic that Verdier discussed is the APIfication of public service in France.

Digitalization, with or without simplification?

Like many other developed (and less-developed) countries, France has undertaken a digitalization of its citizen services. And indeed, in the past few years, French citizens have been able to do more and more online: from tax filing to voter's registration, from fine payment to social housing application, just to name a few. But doing more online also requires creating accounts with a myriad of state and local agencies, scanning and uploading gigabytes of documents and eligibility proofs. In its first incarnation, digitalization certainly saved on queuing and postage, but did little to really simplify life.

I suspect many countries are in a similar situation. When I enter the U.S. now I interact with a machine instead of (or, more often, before) talking to a charming CBP agent. And the City of San Francisco has a rather efficient parking ticket payment system -- but there stops my personal exposure to online U.S. services.

Recently, I came upon a plan by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to release its APIs for patent data into the wild. Clearly an interesting move, that can only foster open innovation and new applications of gigantic corpus of ideas and technologies -- assuming this release is done right, with the proper data structure and tools to use these APIs. Like most open data initiatives, whether mandated in some countries or the result of belief in the freedom of information, providing unfiltered access to data that essentially belongs to the public domain is a major step toward a more open and digitalized society.

APIs as a platform for services

The approach described by French CIO Verdier is actually going one step further. His agency just released the first French API portal: API.gouv.fr, a portal of APIs offered to government agencies but also private enterprises to embed government services. Combined with a digital identity platform (dubbed France Connect, a kind of SSO for citizens) the admitted goal is to platformize the State, offering citizens composite digital services, regardless of which agency offers the actual service. Now we are talking simplification!

 

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