While many Federal agencies focus intensely on cloud migration, one critical (and often overlooked) component of IT modernization is the API [application programming interface], said Pamela Wise-Martinez, chief cloud and enterprise data architect at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), in a MeriTalk webinar “Modernizing the Monolith.”

“About two and a half years ago, I started talking to business leaders [at PBGC] about developing an API strategy, and one of the key reasons is that when we talk about API opportunity, there’s a lot of hidden value there,” said Wise-Martinez. “We’ve been trying to get this principle–for about twenty years–that you create something once and share it many times. An API strategy offers the best opportunity to do that.”

Wise-Martinez suggested that if an organization is developing a cloud-first business model, it also should have an API-first strategy. The main reason? It enables agencies to share data more efficiently, which federal IT executives believe is the number one way to accelerate IT modernization, according to a recent MeriTalk survey.

In light of that, it’s not surprising that 86 percent of the of 275 executives polled in the same survey said that APIs are important to their modernization plans; and 75 percent said that APIs are a logical starting point for agencies with large portfolios of legacy systems.

But in order to develop an API strategy, Federal agencies need to conduct a very thorough and exhaustive audit and analysis of their existing IT systems and their modernization requirements, said Zohaib Khan, application modernization practice lead for Red Hat’s Public Sector business.

“We have a very prescriptive model to assess the readiness of an agency before we do anything,” Khan said. “It’s important to understand the ground you’re standing on. We look at [the customer’s] current state of affairs and where they stand in culture, technology, automation readiness … everything that’s essential to implementing change.”

Also, because change is inevitable for many Federal agencies, they should strongly consider adoption of open source technologies, said Khan.

“Innovation today is coming from open source,” he said. “If your agency views open source critically or if it’s unsure, make an effort to understand it because this is where the majority of innovation is coming from. If you don’t have an open source strategy, you’re going to be left out. Chances are your agency has a large portfolio of various off-the-shelf systems built with proprietary technologies. As you look to make investments, default to open source. It’s cost effective, you can avoid lock-ins and you’re free to choose the pieces that you want for your system.”

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