Pioneer ministry offers 41 external APIs - with more on the way

The New Zealand Companies Office launched its first API in May 2002, just ahead of Amazon.
Written by Rob O'Neill on

Here's an odd list: Salesforce, eBay, the New Zealand Companies Office, Amazon.

In the history of application programming interface (API) development, Salesforce was a clear leader, deploying its XML-based web API in 2000, almost from the company's inception. eBay followed later in the same year and then, according to most accounts, Amazon in July 2002.

On the other side of the world, however, the New Zealand Companies Office had already launched what it then called an XML-based G2B (government to business) interface in May of 2002 as part of its new Oracle-based Personal Property Securities Register.

That register, which hold information on securities held against personal property such as vehicles, is used by finance companies and credit agencies nationwide.

Thirteen years after launch, that interface is still "ticking over", Simon Ferguson, principal advisor in the service transformation team at MBIE, told an audience at the first New Zealand APIDays conference this week. 70 to 80 percent of transactions on that register are via the API.

The Companies Office is now part of a much bigger "mega ministry", created in 2012 by the merger of four smaller agencies. But the ministry's devotion to allowing direct access for external developers to its many registers has not been diluted.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) now offers 41 external APIs, Ferguson said. These operate across three different technology platforms servicing functions such as the Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ), immigration, the insolvency service, disputes resolution and more.

Simon Ferguson
MBIE expects to launch four more next month in support of an effort to provide a register of all New Zealand businesses, the New Zealand Business Number.
Ferguson said further APIs are also in development as part of the creation of an online tenancy bond system, which is expected to replace manual and paper-based processes next year.

APIs are a key tool for improving the ease of doing business with MBIE, providing improved access to information and allowing customers to self-serve from third party products.

Ferguson said they create opportunities to innovate using the ministry's data and to mix and match it with other data sources in ways that are beyond the internal team's mandate.

This can create what Ferguson dubbed "invisible compliance", where businesses comply in the background because it is built into their software or processes rather than coming to the ministry directly or online.

That can reduce re-keying and administration and improve the quality and consistency of government of information, he said. However, adopting APIs meant MBIE spent more and more time talking to people such as software developers rather than businesses, citizens or their agents.

One potential challenge was that the loss of such direct interaction also meant a lost opportunity to educate people about their obligations.

Ferguson said MBIE was still not great at API life-cycle management and still encountered barriers to some new APIs. For instance, one planned two years ago for the Motor Vehicle Register has still not been delivered due to legislation that constrains the use of the data.

MBIE now has a customer support team for users of its APIs, which are available through a storefront. It uses the WSO2 open source API manager and the Swagger framework to define its REST services.

Ferguson said the culture was now that when systems were built they are built around APIs. Co-design of APIs with private providers was something the ministry hoped to engage in in the future.


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