Skip to main content

The Next Frontier for Mission-Critical Applications (Hint: It’s Not Traditional COTS)

Vishal Hanjan, Regional Vice President
February 21, 2023

To be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, state and local governments conduct market research and perform due diligence before purchasing a software solution. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products are often positioned as offering the best price tag and the fastest deployment. However, the promise of a speedy installation often goes unmet.

Another downside of most COTS products is that they’re not flexible. Government requirements change fairly often due to evolving needs or new regulations. For example, the solution may need to start accepting new data from additional forms or routing data through slightly different workflows. Whatever the reason, to adapt the solution to meet your needs, you’ll need to work with the COTS vendor to update their software. That entails creating new business requirement documents, getting into the vendor’s development queue, enduring a lengthy traditional development cycle, and incurring significant costs for programming changes. Suddenly the COTS solution is no longer as cost-effective as originally envisioned, nor is it ready to use when the business needs it. Also, since custom code is tacked onto the original application, the user experience can become clunky as technical debt begins to accrue.

What’s more, COTS solutions are siloed by design. When you try to extend them beyond the specific business case for which they were designed, perhaps by using them for a different department or business function, they may not be able to adapt—meaning you’ll need a different purpose-built product for every business case. The disparate ecosystem of multiple point solutions in just about any given state or local government agency is a testament to this ongoing and expensive cycle.

What do next-generation government process solutions look like?

Formerly, the value proposition of software was its direct applicability to business needs. As long as the business needs didn’t change, the value proposition was clear. The solution was designed and coded to perform a given set of functions by developers that have deep knowledge of the business.

The new value proposition is the ability to create and adjust business processes and applications rapidly and apply them to multiple business areas today and into the future.

One of the biggest shifts in the new way of thinking about software is evident in the way today’s leading organizations approach change and innovation: Change is a given, and new development methods are used as tools to handle change quickly and gracefully. Agile applications are easily updated to adapt to evolving needs, without the long wait times COTS customizations require. 

Get the eBook to read real-world examples of how state and local governments are accelerating digital transformation using an applications-based approach.

Here are some of the key characteristics of next-generation business applications:

  • Unified and platform-based: Next-generation solutions are typically platform-based and offer inroads to many different areas across the enterprise. The vendor community is increasingly looking at commercial end-to-end platforms as the basis for next-generation offerings based primarily on low-code instead of the antiquated method of writing them in traditional code. And rather than containing areas of configurability, entire solutions are built using visual drag-and-drop functionality where writing code is relegated to very specific areas.
  • Agile: Unlike hard-coded COTS updates that take a long time to develop, agile development using a drag-and-drop approach is highly flexible. It’s fast and easy to make changes and adjustments as needed.
  • Reusable components: Reusing visual components not only speeds up development times but also improves quality assurance. Once you know a workflow is working properly in one place, you’re assured it will work elsewhere.
  • Data fabric: Rather than collecting and storing data, modern solutions treat data as a shared resource and access it wherever it’s needed in the workflow. Data fabrics provide a secure method for business teams to develop apps and workflows, as the centralized data architecture gives you a full picture of the visibility and usage of the organization’s data.
  • Intelligent automation: Automation such as robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent document processing (IDP), and artificial intelligence (AI) will perform mundane, repetitive tasks, saving human workers time and effort and improving results over time.

Look for next-generation business process solutions for government.

For small, highly specialized use cases that don’t change often, such as capturing meeting minutes or devising a town agenda, it may still be more cost effective to purchase a COTS solution—for now. 

However, as you expand to the county or state level, needs become more bespoke and statutes often dictate how you run the organization. In these cases, you would need to either force-fit the COTS solution or request costly and time-consuming customization from the vendor, neither of which is advantageous.

Next-generation low-code solutions, on the other hand, let your team create flexible, automated solutions that fit the business requirements and easily adapt as needs change. They can also be repurposed to suit the needs of other agency users.

Software procurement is evolving in terms of technology, approaches, vendors, and expectations. If you’re still holding potential vendors to inflexible requirements related to prior performance, you may be missing out on promising next-generation solutions. Being open to innovation can position your team to iterate fast and deliver flexible applications that can be easily updated, improving your team’s productivity, satisfaction, and the customer experience. 

Appian’s flexible process automation platform and prebuilt solutions are trusted by state and local governments to increase efficiency and improve citizen experiences. Learn more about how you can accelerate your mission.