Legacy system modernization is the bane of certain IT departments within the federal government. Some enterprise resource platforms can be big, heavily customized, and written in older coding languages. Couple that with the fact that many agencies spend so much on maintaining their legacy systems, they can only afford to modernize in small bites. So how can agencies update their systems and escape this no-win situation?
One solution could be low-code development.
"It's a method for being able to rapidly build software that avoids heavy customization and can often be developed through a series of visual building blocks, that are modular and very scalable for the client," said Aaron Jackson, AFS digital platforms lead at Accenture Federal.
In other words, it's not like the highly specialized coding of the past, with complex languages and significant learning curves. It's a new take on development that embraces agile, lowers the barrier to entry, and integrates easily with existing systems, allowing agencies to fill in the blanks while also making individual applications easier to modernize. And it's more cost effective and capable of delivering value faster.
"The low-code platforms provide the ability to automate very complex workflows and business rules in a visual way, that can often be edited on screen, with the client providing input and feedback throughout the process," Jackson said.
Because it's a visual interface you can configure, rather than customizing or hard coding, a wider variety of people from a diverse group of backgrounds can learn to develop using these platforms. That dovetails nicely with the current administration's efforts toward federal workforce reskilling, and the movement from low-value to high-value work. Jackson said that with some platforms it can take as little as two weeks to get a resource competently trained and begin building with low-code.
"And the people who we're equipping to develop on these platforms don't always have to be the computer science majors or the heavy engineering majors that have spent a lot of time coding and building out traditional applications," Jackson said. "So, it really expands our ability to bring additional resources to bear in the current environment where the demand for services is outpacing the supply of talented practitioners. Right now, there are skill shortages for onshore resources and it's hard to find enough talented people to keep up with the demands of our federal clients and achieve their digital transformation goals. And I think the low-code platforms really helps change the game in that area as well."
And by getting more of the workforce involved, particularly the people who are directly responsible for the business processes, low-code can help streamline the development process around the workflow itself. It makes for a much quicker time-to-value when workflow is built in rather than configurations that have to be made at the end.
"We're understanding citizen/customer needs and interaction preferences while building in business process improvement as part of the development phase with these platforms. So rather than trying to alter our clients' processes to make them align with a large out-of-the box solution, or developing a highly customized system that is hard to manage and maintain, we can actually build those steps into our agile delivery process with low-code development," Jackson said.
Because a lot of times that is what it comes down to, Jackson said. "Our clients are looking to automate and improve complex internal workflows within their existing data ecosystem or provide a better experience to engage with external customers and citizens, and low-code platforms can be the answer. Now don't get me wrong there are still lots of situations where custom development will be the right call for the client's circumstances, but more and more we're finding that low-code development provides a quick, cost-effective way to get the results they're looking for."
In addition, low-code provides customers with reusability, and the ability to make enhancements or modifications without big lifts or long timetables for development. For example, if a customer has a large, customized legacy system, then makes small changes, they could have unintended consequences elsewhere in the application. But low-code tends to be more modular, giving agencies much more flexibility to make changes without adversely affecting downstream applications.
"We've been able to work with our federal clients to better understand where their pain points are with legacy system modernization. And in a lot of cases we have successfully used low-code platforms to leverage some of their prior IT investments, and work within their existing ecosystem to fill the gaps and solution shortcomings they have today, without taking them through a complete system replacement," Jackson said. "As our federal clients look to drive down costs while delivering on their missions, we're partnering with them to build dynamic and scalable solutions that can be delivered at pace."
And that's where low-code development comes in.
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