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COVID-19 has had a major impact on the world. It has affected the way we do business, where we work, how we provide services and how we communicate. We must find new ways to accomplish these pursuits, and application programming interfaces (APIs) can help.

In a digital-driven world, applications have become fundamental to our economy and even our society – and these applications commonly need to communicate and integrate with a range of other applications and systems in order to perform their essential functions. APIs are one way to unlock the change. 

APIs enable digital transformation

In a constantly evolving digital economy, APIs are necessary to continuously enable new services, but the need for digital-first strategies have made APIs more of a priority than ever before. Every organization is confronted by the need to make changes fast and adapt to new ways of conducting their business. APIs streamline this process of transformation. 

The Benefits of APIs

APIs are the integration method of choice in the distributed cloud-native development environment, offering a wide range of benefits to developers and the applications they are building, including:

  • Accelerated Development: APIs simplify otherwise complex connections, making it easier for developers to react fast to changing needs, and ultimately accelerating the development cycle.

  • Reusability: API designs can be reused like building blocks, supporting scalability and further expediting the development process.

  • Automation: APIs enable automation by simplifying communication between applications and services, eliminating the need for manual processes, phone calls, faxes, and time-consuming point-to-point integrations.

  • Collaboration: In many cases, internal applications need to connect with external applications or systems. APIs facilitate collaboration with third parties by serving as a simple interface between applications both inside and outside the network that were not originally designed to communicate, supporting partnerships that would otherwise not be possible.

  • Innovation: Custom integration between applications can be costly and time-consuming to establish and maintain. The lower cost and simplicity of APIs fosters experimentation and innovation.

APIs for Today and the Future: Essential Use Cases

APIs are advantageous in a variety of use cases. In the context of COVID-19, we have identified four major use cases where APIs can help organizations combat the economic disruption.

Remote Services

Right now, many service providers are physically separated from their customers,  changing the way many companies have to do business. To enable business continuity, many companies are continuing to serve their customers remotely.

Telemedicine is a perfect example of how APIs can help enable remote services. When patients cannot come to the office, certain medical services can be provided remotely. But not just any video conferencing system will work in this situation, because the technology must be approved by insurance providers, and must be secure enough to meet strict government healthcare regulations. 

Consequently, patients need to be provisioned on specially-designed video systems in order to have face time with their healthcare providers. Healthcare providers are rushing to connect to these new video systems, and APIs can be part of a more secure and reliable way to make the necessary connections.

As an example, a healthcare technology company developed an API that healthcare providers can consume from their systems, enabling providers to add remote medical diagnostic capabilities to any app or website – backed by an AI inference engine and extensive databases of symptoms, lab tests, and conditions. The API can be used in many creative ways, to build a custom symptom checker, a triage app, a chatbot or even a voice-enabled health assistant. Recently, the company also used the same technology to build a COVID-19 risk assessment API enabling healthcare providers to diagnose symptoms of the coronavirus remotely.

Re-tooling the Supply Chain

The emergence of COVID-19 has forced many companies to look at the economy – and their supply chains – in a whole new way. Products with a routine supply chain previously – like toilet paper and medical masks – are now in such high demand that most consumers cannot find these products on store shelves or order them online. 

Retailers who want to be able to serve customers in this time of need must find ways to re-tool the supply chain to meet the changing demand – and that includes changes to IT, and the resulting need for new connections fast. APIs serve this use case well.

For example, APIs can be used to empower applications to track and share data on orders, units produced, product defects, and much more – all information that is critical for manufacturers to react to supply chain disruption. APIs are also critical to enable team members on the production floor to access data and communicate via handheld devices.

One global medical technology provider had to ramp up manufacturing of products needed by hospitals and healthcare providers, including N95 masks, gowns, gloves, antiseptic wipes, hospital beds, diagnostic testing kits and devices such as respirators, which are now in very high demand. The company depends on APIs and API management in order to rapidly re-tool manufacturing processes to address changes in the supply chain.

In addition, a European manufacturer is temporarily changing its supply chain to deliver much needed donations from China to Slovenia, including protective masks, protective medical kits, sets of medical protective clothing, and respirators. The company's IT team has embraced a DevOps approach and API management to enable them to make the necessary changes as quickly as possible.

Information Sharing

The COVID-19 crisis has significantly changed the way companies communicate, and what they are communicating. Sharing information has become more important than ever before, because healthcare providers, medical research institutions, government agencies, companies and other organizations must share vital coronavirus data with each other, and deliver essential messages to their employees, customers, and even the general public. 

For example, stakeholders in the search for COVID-19 cures and vaccines must be able to share data much more quickly than they needed to before. A small piece of information could be the key to fighting the virus, savings lives, and restoring the world economy. With this urgency in mind, APIs can be an efficient and more secure way to connect these many organizations around the world.

One research company is working with partners – such as the World Health Organization and the White House Office of Science and Technology – to provide the global healthcare industry with fast and direct access to the latest available research, evidence, and data on COVID-19. The company is offering thousands of reports and providing an Online Coronavirus Dashboard. In a rapid change to the way it disseminates information, the company used APIs and API management to forge new connections to share information.

Another example, an independent and nonprofit TV broadcaster in Europe has been experiencing higher than usual viewership due to the stay-at-home order in its home country. The broadcaster provides  essential information on developments that citizens need to have access to. The broadcaster depends on APIs for content and teletext to continue informing the public on the latest news about the health crisis.

Government Services

APIs provide government agencies with the flexibility they need to quickly respond to citizen needs during a crisis like COVID-19. For example, the ability to quickly provide stimulus funds to millions of citizens and businesses requires a new way of approaching financial transactions, and APIs can help make the right connections between the right systems.

For example, the Argentine Ministry of Health recently built a new National Digital Health Network to improve accessibility of universal healthcare services by implementing API-based data access. The Ministry used APIs to unite disparate data sources and make clinical records, prescriptions and public information more easily available. 

Enabled by APIs, any healthcare center in Argentina can request and transfer information, verified by a patient cross-identification system. Doctors can now access a patient’s complete health information so they can collaborate to provide the highest quality of care. APIs can also be part of protecting patient medical information. In addition to general healthcare, the government uses this same system to help keep Argentinians up-to-date on new developments, and track local and global COVID-19 cases.

Another example, a European postal service's new IT platform is enabling the delivery of more relevant and timely services over multiple channels to improve the customer experience. This government agency is now more agile to respond in a timely way to current issues. The organization manages the distribution of pensions for citizens, many of whom normally need to visit one of its 12,800 locations to collect their payments. In response to a state-enforced lockdown, the postal service needed to stagger visits to post offices to aid social distancing. The postal service was able to roll out a new service within 48 hours to communicate an individual's designated time slot and branch via online and telephone chatbots built with APIs.

In addition, a European government uses APIs to provide critical updates during COVID-19 lockdown – to transportation providers, businesses and the citizens – including regularly updated maps, and a digital handbook. Aggregating the latest information from multiple transport agencies and distributing it to various stakeholders across the country was made easier with APIs connecting the necessary applications and systems.

Rethinking API Strategy

The inventive examples above represent just a few examples from organizations using API strategies to not only address the real-time situations they are facing today but that can also serve them well into the future.

Our world can change in the blink of an eye and we have to be prepared for even the "unknown unknowns" changes that we cannot predict. APIs can be designed for an unknown future, providing connectivity to the applications we use today and also the revolutionary innovations that will emerge tomorrow making those connections more quickly, more securely and painlessly. 

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About the author

Sameer Parulkar is a Product Marketing Director for Red Hat Integration products. He coordinates marketing, evangelism and product strategy for those products across all regions. Sameer has around 20 years of experience in the IT industry with various roles like developer, technical architect and product marketing primarily supporting integration middleware technologies. Sameer holds a Bachelors in Electronics Engineering (BE) from India and a MBA from Babson College.

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