Open API policy a boon for Indian entrepreneurs

Application programming interface is a set of rules or code built into applications to enable software to communicate with each other


Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Bengaluru: Just the same way Uber became the world’s most valuable start-up thanks in part to Google’s free map data, entrepreneurs in India could soon get to work on prized government data to develop tech fixes for everyday problems.

Uber could access the map data thanks to Google Maps’ application programming interfaces (APIs) which are ‘open’, meaning other applications can access its data. An API is a set of rules or code built into applications to enable software to communicate with each other.

Under the Digital India initiative, the government has mandated an open API policy for five key programmes, meaning data from these programmes must be made accessible for similar creative use. The emerging solutions could further the cause of financial inclusion and reduce complexities in transactions.

The five programmes are Aadhaar, e-KYC (know your customer), e-Sign (a mechanism for digitally signing documents that is legally accepted), proposed privacy-protected data sharing, and the Unified Payments Interface or UPI, an initiative of the National Payments Corporation of India which will allow fund transfer between banks with the help of a single identifier.

Software products think-tank iSpirt calls this set of five APIs the India Stack, at the heart of which is the UPI API, which will be formally unveiled on 8 April. Developers can currently access it via an online hackathon underway until 6 March.

Using one or more of these open APIs, companies can slash costs in offline authentication and provide services legally approved by the government, to anyone with a mobile phone.

The digital payments opportunity in India is immense. Banks reported 32.48 million mobile transactions in October, in which funds worth Rs.30,568 crore were transferred, according to data available with the Reserve Bank of India, compared to 14.7 million transactions worth over Rs.8,400 crore a year ago, according to a 7 January Mint report.

“We believe strongly that India Stack is going to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to create applications and products for the Indian market. It will solve two problems – one it is going to make an ecosystem of entrepreneurs to build businesses which require payments, and also solve the problem of consumers in India who didn’t get access to these services before,” said Jay Pullur, governing council member at iSpirt and chief executive officer at Pramati Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

However, it will take some time before all this falls into place. The APIs available through India Stack are at various stages of maturity, and some are still being refined. Awareness is also key.

“Like any new technology, India Stack too needs a lot of evangelism and promotion. I think a lot of industry leaders need to speak about it and highlight its importance,” said Sachin Gupta, CEO, HackerEarth, whose platform is being used to run the UPI hackathon, for which about 600 teams have signed up so far.

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