IP Australia's API-led transformational journey
Australia’s intellectual property rights agency is transforming the way its customers do business with it, using APIs to free up new solutions.
If you ever need to register or enquire about a trademark, patent or registered design, IP Australia is the agency you will turn to. Part of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, IP Australia manages Australia’s intellectual property rights, from company logos to plant breeds.
IP Australia’s transactional channel handles about 800,000 transactions per year coming from individual self-filers and from expert users. This includes a large number of overseas users, especially for patent applications, 95% of whom use an attorney or an agent. Some large firms can be responsible for up to 10% of filings.
For IP Australia’s Chief Digital Officer, Damian Giuffre, that mix of customers — expert and casual, local and international — adds complexity to an already complex undertaking. Dealing with an ever-increasing number of applications and submissions, queries, amendments and so on, means finding new ways to increase internal efficiencies and make the customer experience smoother and easier. Not an easy job for a function which, for centuries, was paper-bound.
Which is why IP Australia is embarked upon a process of digital transformation, assisted by companies such as MuleSoft, which is aiding the customer-experience transformation side of things.
“We do a really, really good job of our core business, which is examining patents and trademarks,” Giuffre said. “But [where] we’ve always struggled to maintain the pace of change is really at the level of customer experience.
“There’s a lot of expectation I suppose from the modern customer, the modern citizen,” he added. “One of my key remits is around redeveloping our customer-facing transactional systems and making sure that we do this in a very customer-centric way, putting a real focus on the user and putting them at the centre of what we do.”
IP Australia ‘went digital’ in 2012–13, but what exactly does that mean for this government body?
“There are a couple of different things that we do. We have informational things, but also transactional,” Giuffre said. “When someone files for a new trademark or a new patent, that’s our transactional space. At that time [2012–13] we had about 12% of people doing transactions with us through our digital channel, so there wasn’t much uptake.
“So we developed a digital option for people, and since then we’ve moved to 99% digital uptake through those transactional channels,” he said. “We’ve had a very significant success and we have a really powerful platform now… we’ve driven customers towards those digital channels. And people have embraced them, which has been really great.
“But we developed them originally without a real focus on the user, and it was very much a digitisation of our paper processes,” he added. “I think it was probably the way things were done at the time, but it doesn’t meet our modern customer expectations and it doesn’t meet the efficiency needs of our larger customers, our B2B transactors.
“So what we’re doing now is about the next steps, the next iteration of our evolution, and really transforming our digital business model.”
The API layer
IP Australia had found its existing platform increasingly challenging to maintain and improve, so it is in the process of moving from its ‘old world’ channels to a more modern customer experience.
“When things get more and more complicated, the more we try to manoeuvre things, the more tightly coupled they are… so we were really struggling to continue to modernise and meet those modern customer expectations,” he said. “So we’ve started a new program of work to modernise, and move away from, the old channels and build a new API-based transactional approach.”
“And that’s where MuleSoft comes in; that’s where they’re providing a lot of value for us, enabling us to expose our digital assets through APIs, for the first time,” he added.
A prime reason for the move is to increase efficiency for larger trademark and patent filers who integrate their backend systems with IP Australia, so that their software developers can take advantage of the APIs and build on top of them.
IP Australia is building a new website, which will leverage the APIs to create a new user interface aimed at small-to-medium enterprise users. Giuffre says it will be user-centred and will focus on user experience. “Over time it will be much simpler and easier for us to maintain, evolve, modernise, update and keep in line with those modern expectations,” he said.
“That’s one of the challenges we’ve found. Our current system is working well, but the world is moving so fast and people expect so much more… and they see so much more [capability] in the private sector,” he added.
“For us in government, we’re struggling to keep up with that pace,” he said. “We can do better; we can give people the experience they want, and we can enable them to interact with us, engage with us, in a variety of ways — not necessarily just our website, but potentially through a whole-of-government platform [and] third-party software developer applications.
“So when I talk about bringing software developers along for this journey, that’s one of the key things that we’ve never really done before,” he added. “I talk about transforming our digital business model and putting up our assets so that software developers can utilise them and actually build new applications on top of them, and maybe combine them with other government agencies, services or private sector services and create new value.”
Giuffre adds that while IP Australia has been pulling apart the front end to enable it to work more seamlessly at the customer experience layer, at the same time, “we have to reach further into our backend and decouple a lot of our backend systems as well”.
“So whilst MuleSoft is helping us at the front end in terms of exposing those APIs, we’re also re-architecting a lot of our backend systems and pulling apart all our applications. [This will] enable us to get more agility and break things down into smaller components and microservices and move away from some of the large monoliths we’ve got.”
Giuffre added that the backend challenge “is something that I assume everyone else is dealing with as well across government”.
“What we’ve seen as we’ve begun to implement MuleSoft and some other technologies is a real push around more agile approaches, more continuous delivery approaches and more DevOps approaches,” he said. “I think that’s actually having a really positive effect on the culture internally.”
Giuffre said IP Australia is moving away from the old routine of infrequent system updates. “We don’t do this enormous monolithic release that’s chaotic at the end; we’re trying to release value iteratively and deliver quickly and incrementally over time,” he said. “It’s a useful tool to galvanise an IT cohort and say, ‘We can do things in a more contemporary way, in a more modern way.’”
According to Giuffre, there’s been a significant uptake in the digital channels, with a lot of customers finding value and benefit in what IP Australia has done over the last four or five years.
“We’ve added a lot of other cutting-edge digital things to our experience… such as Trade Mark Assist, our new trademark search system,” he said. “There’s a whole range of things we’ve done that have enhanced customer experience and we’ve done a really good job, I think, of enabling customers to make better decisions digitally.
“That’s one of our key things, I suppose — we’re not trying to sell more IP rights, we don’t want more filings necessarily,” he said. “We want people to be making better decisions on whether they need IP rights and whether they should file one, and when they do to make sure they do it right the first time.
“That’s what all this digital transformation is really about — it’s about enabling a better customer outcome for the users.”
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