Big Data

The White House Open Data Mandate - It's All About Building APIs

By Jason Lobel • May 27, 2013

We were glad to learn of the U.S. Government’s May 9, 2013 Executive Order “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.” The goal of this mandate is not only public transparency, but to lower barriers for developers to use government data to build new commercial applications and services. We are excited about this initiative―we think it will be a catalyst for a more informed public, as well as the creation of new technology jobs. This is a very important strategic direction and companies of all sizes should recognize its underlying meaning. Basically, the White House is calling for government information to be “actionable.”

We believe the future of enterprise data strategy is not about necessarily trying to understand every data point, but rather how to use technology to make data, big and small, actionable. What are we talking about? We consider data to be actionable when it is accessible, machine-readable, deliverable at web scale, relevant, and even possibly open, depending on its sensitivity.

  • Accessible: available to be queried on-demand via an API
  • Machine-readable: in a format (e.g., JSON) that machines can consume
  • Web scale: capable of being delivered reliably regardless of the volume or velocity of data requests
  • Relevant: facilitates monetization, such as driving revenue or affecting an operational decision
  • Open: available for self-service access whereby a developer can register with the data provider, accept their terms of use and obtain data programmatically

APIs empower the enterprise to launch new services, innovate faster, lower application development costs, embed personalization and maintain cross-channel data consistency. Open data and APIs are relevant for large enterprises to achieve substantial competitive advantages with multi-channel touchpoint operations―especially in retail. In this ultra-competitive ecosystem, players such as Amazon, Best Buy and Walgreens have invested in API infrastructure to compete faster and smarter.

  • Amazon: Around 2002, Jeff Bezos issued a mandate for all product teams to expose data internally from API interfaces. Amazon, which now boasts over $60 billion of revenue, used its technology to be the lowest cost retailer and also gain several early mover advantages in mobile commerce and public cloud infrastructure. 
  • Best Buy created an API program, BBY Open, with an estimated 20 full-time employees that build and maintain APIs that are responsible for over a hundred million dollars of incremental revenue. Their open developer portal,, allows developers to register, obtain data and build applications from product content, offers, store locations, reviews and other relevant retail data. Best Buy even offers a commerce API to select partners enabling transactions to occur outside of stores or their e-commerce site. 
  • Walgreens launched an API program for their core pharmacy and photo businesses allowing consumers extra conveniences, such as filling a prescription anywhere or printing Instagram photos to the nearest store.

Other large retailers are now recognizing the value of open data and are developing API capabilities. Target launched their first external API at South by Southwest in March via a crowdsourced mobile app contest. Recently, Wal-Mart announced they could offer services no one else can by connecting 10,000 stores and 10 e-commerce sites, is believed to also be launching an API program this year. We believe the majority of retailers will need to develop API capabilities very soon in order to remain competitive.

At SwiftIQ, we believe technology that helps organizations monetize their data will drive competitive advantage across retail, distribution, and airlines among other industries. However, many incumbent leaders are challenged with making decisions with disparate data across many complex legacy systems. SwiftIQ's Swift Access platform allows large enterprises to create REST APIs from large datasets without writing a single line of code. We lower the barriers for developers to use your data to deliver omni-channel applications, power interactive dashboards and adaptive intelligence applications. You never have to worry about managing servers or building complex infrastructure.  A diagram of our platform follows.

Swift Access Product Diagram

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