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How the public sector can learn from the private sector’s use of an API-first approach

How the public sector is now benefiting from adopting an API-first approach whilst taking on board the lessons learnt from the private sector

Blog series (3/5)


The private sector has been using APIs for a long time and found that an API-first approach can improve their business. APIs allow companies to open up their data and services to other businesses, making it easier for them to collaborate and create new products. They also help with marketing, branding, and increasing customer loyalty.

On the other hand, the public sector is just starting to realise the benefits of APIs. They are still trying to figure out how best to use them and overcome the challenges posed by bureaucracy and red tape. However, there are some areas where the public sector can learn from the private sector’s experience, which we will look at in this blog.

Introducing the concept of an API-first approach

An API-first approach is a way of thinking about how to build and design applications. It starts by focusing on the API, or the interface that allows different parts of an application to communicate with each other. This approach is being used in private and public sectors and, more widely, by private companies.

One of the benefits of using an API-first approach is to help simplify the development process. By designing and building the API first, you can create a foundation that other parts of the application can build. Making it easier to add new features and make changes to the application later on.

Another advantage of using an API-first approach is that it can help improve communication between different parts of an application. By making the API available to everyone who needs it, you can minimise the need for communication between other teams or departments. This can help improve efficiency and reduce the chances of errors happening.

The difficulties of pursuing an API-first approach

The public sector often faces several unique challenges when using an API-first approach. To comply with government regulations, the public sector must undergo a lengthy approval process. This can slow API development and make it difficult to respond to changes quickly.

Another challenge is working with other agencies and organisations. The public sector must often work with other agencies to provide services or share data. This can be difficult, especially if those agencies are unfamiliar with using APIs.

Large IT legacy estates can prove challenging and costly to migrate and rationalise legacy infrastructure into a single, simplified environment.

Finally, the public sector often lacks the funding and resources that private companies have. This can make it more challenging to build and maintain an API infrastructure.

How the public sector can learn from the private sector’s use of APIs

When using APIs, the private sector often has the advantage. They can be more agile in developing and deploying APIs and have more control over their data. This allows them to be more selective about who they share their data with and how it is used.

So what can the public sector learn from the private sector’s use of APIs? Here are a few things:

1. The importance of flexibility

API development is a fluid process, and it’s essential to be able to adapt as needed. The private sector is often more flexible in developing and deploying APIs, allowing them to respond quickly to market or customer needs changes. The public sector could benefit from adopting a more relaxed approach to API development.

2. The importance of control

API development should not be done in a vacuum. Companies must control their data and ensure customers receive the best experience. The public sector could benefit from taking a hands-on approach to API development and management.

3. The importance of collaboration

API development is not a one-person show. Companies must collaborate to get the most out of their APIs. The public sector could benefit from building stronger partnerships with other agencies and organisations.

A public sector API-first led approach

When using APIs, the public sector often has to play catch-up with the private sector. However, some Government departments and councils are leading the way in adopting API-first approaches. This example from the HMRC demonstrates that progress is being made within the public sector.

This allows them to work more collaboratively with other agencies and organisations and build better data-sharing systems. It also helps them be responsive when market or customer needs change.


While the private sector has been quicker to adopt an API-first approach, the public sector can learn a lot from its successes and failures. By understanding how best to use APIs, agencies can make it easier for people and businesses to access government data and services. This will help reduce bureaucracy while also increasing transparency and accountability.
Are you in the public sector and considering how an API-first approach could transform your department? If so, book a call with our team to find out more.