Local developers have created a petition on change.org asking Telcos to create a tool that helps them better integrate their apps with local payment services in order to create better applications that are more tailored to Zimbabweans.
The petition by developers is directed to;
- Econet Wireless through the EcoCash platform
- NetOne through the OneMoney platform
- Telecel through the Telecash platform
What do the devs want?
The developers are requesting for :
- Opening a secure publicly consumable RESTful Application Programming Interface (API)
- Providing clear and concise documentation of the said API
- Ensuring acceptable uptimes and reliability of the API
Ok, that’s a bit technical so let me try help the rest of us who don’t speak ‘code’ (developers feel free to help me out –in the comments below- if I trip along the way).
What is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface and with an API, people will be able to buy something within an app much more seamlessly. For example, in a pizza ordering application a developer would want a customer to order their pizza, add toppings and when the customer clicks buy they would be able to choose their form of payment whilst within the app and the transaction is complete. Simple. This has not been the case for local developers and either;
- The developers have to hack their way around – making their app run the USSD codes in the background when a user clicks buy. The app would then dial all the necessary codes and then leave the user to enter their pin. No small feat on the developers end.
- Users have to actually exit the app and then dial *151# (in the case of EcoCash of course) and then enter the merchant code and so forth and so on… It’s a multiple step process which is never a good thing.
When things (in this case apps) just work seamlessly people are more comfortable using those things. Whereas when a user has to go through a 6-or-so step process to buy something they will just stop using the application.
With an API developers could also have an ‘EcoCash Developer Account’ that makes it easier for them to receive payments. With the hack mentioned above, developers would have to resend a code for buyers to enter in their app but with an API once the transaction goes through its done and dusted.
Another instance where an API would be beneficial to users and developers is in the following example. Let’s say a developer offers a subscription service. If there is an API integrated with the Telcos users can choose to be billed on a monthly basis without any hassle. This would mean users do not have to worry about forgetting to make the payment which would lead to inconvenience if the subscription is of importance to a user (which I assume it will be since you’re parting with your money).
The API also needs to be secure. For example, if the API is insecure and one enters their PIN, the app could continue transacting on behalf of you (without authorisation) which is a problem for obvious reasons.
In the last example of a subscription service giving an insecure API access to your account every month could lead to disastrous occurrences; because of insecurities instead of paying, let’s say $5 a month, the app is now charging you $10 and it’s not clear what exactly the other $5 is for.
API’s are basically URL’s that serve as end-points to serve a specific purpose so the security is of paramount importance so that data capture at these end-points is not misused.
Why should it be clear?
Secondly, the documentation of the API should be ‘clear and concise’ so that developers know what they can and cannot do through/with said API.
Telcos should ensure the uptimes and reliability of the API is acceptable because if the damned thing works unreliably then it doesn’t really serve the purpose of creating an API in the first place.
As I highlighted above, I’m not a developer so I may have missed something. If I did, ‘can the developers in the house please stand up!’ Your views or corrections will be much appreciated in the comments below.
Why do they want this ‘API’?
The petition itself states:
As developers and entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, innovation and business development is inseparable from enabling seamless financial transactions in our products and services.
We’re lobbying operators that enable financial transactions in Zimbabwe to allow developers access to their services via easily consumable APIs (Application Programming Interfaces)
What could be the benefits?
They believe if their request is met they will solve three problems at once! Firstly, this will enable innovative solutions to local problems. They also believe business opportunities and by extension create “much-needed employment opportunities.” Lastly, if telcos help developers with an API, developers are sure the telcos will increase their earnings by commission because of the variation of use case that will be established as a result of the move.
The petition has around 42 petitions (at the time of writing) with a target of 100. If you believe this to be worthwhile you can sign the petition here.