​Reinventing NZ Post one API at a time

NZ Post's development centre is all about creating new business models for the traditional postal business.

NZ Post is banking on three new web services to expose parts of its technology to outside integration and drive its reinvention as an e-commerce enabler.

Faced with perhaps terminally declining mail volumes, NZ Post is focusing on the booming e-commerce, parcel delivery and logistics markets through opening its legacy digital assets to outside users.

A year-long effort has seen the delivery of three APIs, or application programming interfaces, that allow external users to integrate with its shipping, addressing and postal systems.

"We spent the last 12 months building those products and changing business processes to work with the APIs and in the digital context," said Joe Brophy, NZ Post's manager solutions development for channels and digital platforms.

"We launched a new development centre in June with those three. Each has its own customer pipeline actively on-boarding and integrating the APIs."

Brophy said new business models are developing around addressing and NZ Post is now signing up customers to a commercial version of its addressing API.

That API is enabling very different uses for what used to be a data cleansing application. It is being used, for example, in applications for credit cards for identity verification processes.

Globally, email, social media, and digital goods such as e-books have all contributed to accelerating declines in traditional postal revenues. Parcels of physical goods, however, still have to be delivered and with e-commerce replacing retail, there are a lot of parcels.

That category overtook letters as NZ Post's largest source of revenue in the 2014 financial year.

While courier companies already take a chunk of the parcel delivery market, native digital companies have their eyes on that prize as well. Last year taxi start-up Uber began trialling parcel deliveries in New York and in March, Uber announced its UberRush delivery service would be launched in Australia.

NZ Post is clearly in a race against time and is using the services of a newly arrived consultancy to help build its third API, a more complex offering that Brophy said will bridge the transition from traditional mail to digital content supply.

Australia-based consultancy Sixtree, which launched its operations in New Zealand in August, specialises in API design and integration and also in the open source MuleSoft API management platform used by NZ Post.

Brophy said this third API, called Connect and still at an early stage of development, is all about users being able to control and share digital content into other apps and other platforms.

NZ Post has many and varied legacy applications underpinning the API layer and those systems are also being refreshed and modernised, he said. Therefore, investing in API management wasn't enough.

The development team had to design to abstract the API layer away from the legacy applications to create interfaces that both worked and were sustainable.

"We realised we needed best practice advise and input and Sixtree had a good relationship with MuleSoft. We are using them for advise and best practice input to the APIs we design and using them in the Connect space to actually design and build the API."

Sixtree's Damian Harvey said there is a lot of gold buried in existing IT assets but that has to be liberated in order to allow enterprises to "act as start-ups" and build new business models. Enterprise technology platforms can become monoliths and limit the freedom of companies.

"We advocate more of a layered architecture where things are loosely coupled to allow users to create new business processes in an easy way," he said.

Many users are locked into heavily customised ERP systems, for instance. APIs can be used to create layers to expose data and then to create new processes on top of the core.

Brophy will present at Sixtree's API Days conference on October 19.