APIs: the lynchpin of an effective contact tracing policy

Profile picture for user Lila Dorato By Lila Dorato October 29, 2020
Lila Dorato, Director Solution Engineer at MuleSoft, explains why data in isolation will cause problems for contact tracing investments and argues the case for an API led approach.

Image of a mobile phone contact tracing COVID-19
(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay )

As global efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 continue to ramp up, contact tracing is high on the agenda for governments everywhere. However, there are also significant efforts underway to build out these capabilities at an organisational level. Research shows that just over a third (37 percent) of organisations have implemented their own contact tracing policies, complementing efforts taken at the national level. It's understandable why this has become such a priority, given that effective contact tracing can be key to allowing offices to remain open safely and protecting employee health. Yet putting these programmes into place isn't straightforward: contact tracing relies on a high level of data agility, where the organisation's own systems, along with those of other stakeholders such as government or healthcare organisations, can share information seamlessly.

Don't keep your data in self-isolation

Many organisations don't currently possess the level of data agility required for contact tracing to work effectively. It can be a struggle to integrate the various sources of data that are needed to inform a contact tracing initiative, such as personnel data from HCM software like Workday, along with public COVID-19 data from government dashboards and healthcare organisations. In fact, MuleSoft's Connectivity Benchmark Report found that 85 percent of organisations have significant integration challenges that stall digital initiatives, and of the almost 900 different applications in use across the average enterprise, just over a quarter are integrated, leaving data trapped in silos.

For those organisations facing these challenges, putting an effective contact tracing programme in place is often a difficult and time-consuming process, which is usually driven using custom-built integrations between systems and databases. The practice of keeping data stored in silos across the organisation makes it difficult to draw data together quickly to paint a holistic, up-to-date, and accurate picture of whether it's safe to keep the office open, or whether there's a risk that doing so could potentially expose workforces to the virus.

The lynchpin of contact tracing

To get around their data integration challenges, many organisations have been experimenting with application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are placed in front of the various applications they need to draw data from, forming an integration layer that allows relevant data from each system to be used to create a single view of the enterprise.  With this in place, organisations can quickly and easily draw the information they need from disparate systems scattered across the business, without relying on custom-built integrations. In ‘normal' times, this ability to pool data from various sources to create a single view is an important step in improving organisational agility and creating more connected digital experiences for customers and internal users. In the current circumstances, it's a crucial element of an organisation's contact tracing programme, and the lynchpin of any return-to-work strategy.

However, this level of connectivity can be extended beyond the four walls of an organisation to drive even greater value, and more robust contact tracing capabilities. By embracing an API strategy, organisations can make their various data sources discoverable and accessible to third parties, enabling their own information to be combined with that of others. If an organisation's contact tracing programme can integrate with data sources from governments, healthcare organisations and other key stakeholders in the fight against the virus, it can provide that organisation with a much more complete understanding of whether employees might have been exposed to COVID-19, and what the resultant risks could entail.

Contact tracing on the front line

One organisation putting these methods into practice is the Indiana Department of Child Services. Even amid the worst effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the Indiana Department of Child Services was able to safely re-open 92 buildings across the state, with the ability to determine which of its employees are in each building, when they've checked in, when they check out, whether social distancing measures are met, and even how much hand sanitiser and face masks are available.

This solution was achieved within eight hours through the effective use of APIs. By implementing an API strategy to ensure connectivity across all of its systems, the Indiana Department of Child Services was able to draw data from across a wide range of sources to assess the safety risk of opening up buildings across areas with differing rates of infection. Additionally, the ability of APIs to expose these systems to others enables the organisation to use them to build other services in future, such as health or care applications that other organisations can use.

Towards a more informed and agile future

The reality for many organisations is that keeping their office locations open safely is a complicated process and balancing act. Circumstances change quickly, and local flare-ups are now often addressed with local restrictions. In light of this unpredictability, the best way organisations can safeguard themselves is to become as informed and as agile as possible.

This is where API-led connectivity becomes so valuable. Through the use of APIs, organisations can equip themselves with the ability to make more informed decisions about whether it's safe to keep their offices open, and to make those decisions more quickly. Better still, the data agility that APIs enable is also a vital aspect of building resilience into an organisation, since it helps the organisation to adapt more quickly to future changes, even at short notice. APIs should therefore be seen as both a technological initiative and a strategic imperative, both as the crucial ingredient behind contact tracing, and the means by which organisations can make themselves agile enough to ride out the storm and thrive in the future.