Date
15 December 2018
The HKMA believes Open API Framework will help ensure the competitiveness of the local banking sector, and encourage more parties to provide innovative and integrated services. Photo: Reuters
The HKMA believes Open API Framework will help ensure the competitiveness of the local banking sector, and encourage more parties to provide innovative and integrated services. Photo: Reuters

Can Hong Kong catch up in the era of API Economy?

What is the similarity between the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), Google, Amazon, Uber, Tencent, Alibaba, and Singapore government in terms of an initiative they all pursued? Well, it pertains to the so-called API Economy. In late July this year, HKMA announced the launch of Open APl, claiming that such move will help reinforce Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center. It also proves that this economic model continues to thrive.

What is API and API Economy

What is API? It refers to “application programming interface” which is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. Basically, an API specifies how software components should interface. A good API makes it easier to develop an application program by providing all the building blocks like Lego pieces for you to build a castle. A programmer then arranges the blocks together to meet his requirements.

“APl Economy” refers economic activities enabled by companies using API to open their own data which allows third-party application (app) developers to access and build on top of the companies’ existing products and services. For example, iPhone, in its early days, leveraged a set of its APIs to attract developers to create apps to sell their services in the App Store, and in turn reaped the benefits of the exponential increase in functionality those apps brought to the iOS ecosystem.

Some companies even base their entire business on top of a variety of API by other companies. For instance, in Lyft’s case, the ride-hailing company has used API of Google Maps for navigation, Twilio for sign-up verification, and Stripe for payment.

The fast devour the slow

Why do companies open their data using API?

The first company to open an API was eBay, the auction website. In 1999, the then eBay system failed with the service being suspended for a whole day. It was a painful lesson that prompted the  company to realize the importance of building extensive support. It could not rely solely on its internal IT team anymore. Opening API for others to use and participate was a solution. Therefore, the company opened its API in the following year, 2000.

Large companies opening their data in the format of APl allows many smaller but agile app developers to extend and even invent new applications. The advantage of these small companies is their speed in developing new services within a very short duration. Once their app fails, it can quickly be replaced or fine-tuned.

Some say that in the internet era, the big can no longer devour the small but the fast devour the slow. Speed becomes one of the most important factors that determine a company’s failure or success.

In addition to enhancing their own competitiveness, large companies can also generate revenue by implementing APl: they can charge for sharing their information, and additional income can be derived from new services so established. Moreover, they can learn more about their customers from the additional behavior data.

Singapore uses API to run the country

According to Programmable Web, there are nearly 20,000 open API in its database — even NASA opened its API — proving a development boom.

Singapore is one step ahead. The country has already advocated to run the country by opening government information using API. There are two parts: one is a platform for internal use only, that is, using API to distribute and share information among government departments; the other is open data to the public, through data.gov.sg.

Prior to this, data.gov.sg had over 10,000 datasets, but most of them were in PDF format that computers could not read, and they were fragmented and not connected to each other. 

Singapore’s goal is to allow the public to login like Facebook or Google; users only need to log in once. Even if they switch between different applications in the same working session, the system can recognize them, so they don’t need to enter personal information once again.

So, are there any business opportunities for people in Hong Kong? Let’s discuss the issue later.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC

The writer is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hong Kong. She is also one of the locally-bred IT entrepreneurs of Hong Kong.

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