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App Platforms Smooth IT Modernization Processes for Federal Government

Jason Adolf, Industry Vice President - Global Public Sector
July 12, 2017

The U.S. federal government is facing a daunting IT modernization challenge, but recent advances in the cloud and application development platform sectors are laying the foundation for innovation. Emerging tools are simplifying legacy app modernization, making it easier to create new apps, simplifying release processes and alleviating the maintenance and management burdens placed on government IT workers. All of this comes at a time when the IT modernization issue is particularly acute.

The IT Modernization Problem

Historically, many government agencies have turned to custom, proprietary technology systems to meet their specific needs. While these strategies were viable at the time, they have resulted in an operational climate in which highly nuanced, unique applications stand at the bedrock of government IT operations. As these solutions have aged, they've become extremely difficult to manage and maintain, but also challenging to move on from because of their highly specialized nature.

Research from IDC indicates that approximately 77 percent of the federal IT budget is spent on operations and maintenance of legacy systems. Just 22.3 percent of federal IT funding goes to development and enhancement. Furthermore, the proportion of agency budgets being devoted to legacy systems has been gradually increasing - operations and maintenance of legacy systems was 66 percent of federal IT budgets eight years ago.

"The federal government is making a major move to bring IT systems in line with contemporary requirements."

In some cases, agencies are spending upwards of 90 percent of their budgets on maintenance, but some of these results are skewed by monolithic systems that garner a huge portion of government IT spending. Either way, the government is increasingly aware of how much is being spent on legacy system maintenance and working toward a formal IT modernization effort to control these costs.

Charging Into a Modernized IT Future

IT modernization has been a hot-button issue in the federal government for years, and the current presidential administration is continuing the move through a formalized strategy meant to prioritize systemic updates across the government. According to a NextGov report, The White House recently formed what is being dubbed the "American Technology Council." The group is made up of high-ranking government officials and advisors and is organized in such a way that it will meet on an ad hoc basis to solve problems and drive innovation in a flexible, fast-moving manner.

This move comes in the aftermath of a new IT modernization bill that is before the House and will mirror many of the ideals being championed by the Office of American Innovation, the NextGov report explained. All told, it is clear that the federal government is making a major move to bring IT systems in line with contemporary requirements, something that will require strategic innovation across departmental and agency lines.

Establishing a Pathway to IT Modernization

Migrating from legacy technology models to modern systems requires a combination of cultural change and technological innovation that must be balanced hand in hand throughout the transition. A FedScoop report said that policy changes and new expectations are key to modernization because many agencies are so risk averse and wary of altering anything that they will avoid making significant changes until an emergency arises from external sources. Because of this, driving cultural change serves as the first step toward IT modernization. From there, the report, which was created in light of interviews with a variety of unnamed federal IT leaders, highlighted a few key steps in modernization. These included:

    • Identifying and dealing with interconnections that create technical complexity. The number of internal and external partnerships in government IT ecosystems can be staggering. Gaining a full understanding of these interconnections, modernizing processes between stakeholders and employing modern cloud services to simplify the technical side of these relationships can prove essential in IT modernization.

    • Don't try to do everything yourself. The talent management and underlying technical issues that arise in modern IT departments are often too much for agencies to handle on their own. This is particularly true when it comes to the everyday operations and maintenance work that accompany operations. Strategic external partnerships can fill talent gaps, allow for more efficient service delivery and fuel innovation.

    • Think holistically. In many cases, government agencies will go forth to modernize and pick one specific problem area, neglecting the web of interrelated systems and processes that surround it. This leads to diminished returns as the IT portfolio itself is still riddled with legacy systems and workflows that need to be updated in a coordinated, coherent manner.

Innovating in such a major way may seem daunting, but FCW reported that emerging technological models are making innovation easier than ever in the public sector. In particular, agile development is empowering agencies to gradually update major systems in a more approachable way. At the same time, cloud systems delivered as-a-service allow for greater budget flexibility as new solutions can be taken on out of operating expenses instead of requiring capital funding.

Application development platforms stand at the crossroads of the agile and cloud worlds. They build on what makes agile great - simplified, focused development project structures - with low-code app development tools that make it easier to establish core app functionality without as much of a programming burden. At the same time, app platforms residing in the cloud create a foundational infrastructure environment that makes it easier to test, release and change apps within the platform at any time.

Cultural and policy changes are essential in IT modernization.Cultural and policy changes are essential in IT modernization.

Using App Platforms to Simplify IT Modernization

The stable, secure and flexible environments established with app platforms give IT teams the control they need to manage and enforce security and data workflow policies. Furthermore, the low-code tools offer a framework for rapid app creation and customization, allowing for legacy app modernization and simplified data integration between apps and services. When combined, these systems come together to create an innovation platform that drives digital transformation in the public sector.

Appian's app platform ecosystem stands out, in particular, because we build our business process management software solutions into the app platform, giving users the ability to structure apps around process requirements in intuitive and natural ways. This allows for a greater degree of business process automation and sets the foundation for a flexible, mobile workforce that crosses organizational boundaries without putting agency missions at risk.

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