Driving home from the Boston Logan airport in the winter can be an adventure. Fortunately, local governments have set up a means for reporting one of the perils — potholes. I know this because an overhead digital sign told me the number to call if I saw one. I appreciate the opportunity to help out, but the inefficiencies in this system make me cringe! If I see a pothole, I have to remember where it was until I have a chance to write it down. I also have to remember the nearest cross-street or landmark to help crews identify the proper location. And if I come across a second pothole before writing down all the first information? No chance I remember either. Does anyone remember playing the telephone game as kids? This is the modern version.

Many of our clients call with a similar challenge — how do we modernize manual processes for a digital/mobile world? With that in mind, how are many solving this today?

Create a mobile app. Mobile first! Everything is mobile these days, so let's jump on that train! While this is a good start, it’s important to understand the context of the user. There’s a good chance they’re using the GPS app on their phone to find the optimal way home. To use a new app, I have to go to the app list, find the new “Report Pothole” app, wait for it to initialize, and then report the incident. By then I’m no longer at the physical location and thus haven’t solved much of the manual problem. Solving this requires a better first step…

Create an API. Realistically, create a set of APIs, some public, some private. This not only enables mobile developers to create the app we just discussed, but your “Report a pothole” service can now integrate everywhere else. For example, the GPS app that was in use when finding the pothole! I’ve written that the future of mobile isn’t apps, but instead experiences driven by platform services such as Google Now. The beauty of an API-first approach is that your solution is flexible: This platform-driven future state can consume it, existing apps can integrate with it, and you can also build a mobile app yourself if that solves the business goal. Oh, and it fits perfectly in the 4-tier architecture required to address today's mobile and tomorrow's connected challenges!

There aren’t many public digital engineering challenges that I am faced with that I don’t start with an API solution. The challenge is often convincing the business of the importance of this approach. Don’t worry, we’re busy working on that side of the story at Forrester as well. Got ideas about this (or think I’m crazy)? Drop me a line on twitter at @ASocialFace. I’m looking forward to the discussion!