Upgrading IT – Which software solution should you choose?

As federal agencies eye digital transformation, IT leaders are inundated with options for software platforms. With varying missions and distinct structures, the decision to implement a certain platform depends on each organization’s unique mission. Success depends on an IT leader’s ability to understand their agency’s unique technological capabilities and determine which features and use-cases are best-suited for a specific project. Choosing the optimal software platform, as well as strategically choosing the right innovation partner, is...

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As federal agencies eye digital transformation, IT leaders are inundated with options for software platforms. With varying missions and distinct structures, the decision to implement a certain platform depends on each organization’s unique mission. Success depends on an IT leader’s ability to understand their agency’s unique technological capabilities and determine which features and use-cases are best-suited for a specific project. Choosing the optimal software platform, as well as strategically choosing the right innovation partner, is one of the key steps to fruitful modernization, allowing leaders to properly address long-term needs and future-proof pivotal infrastructure.

Low-code/no-code platforms, open source software, and proprietary software are a few options that IT leaders have when it comes to delivering software applications. While it’s nearly impossible to compare platforms with such different capabilities, understanding the high-level benefits and drawbacks can help IT leaders make an informed decision on what’s best for their organization. Each technology has more nuanced details, but learning the basics about these software options can help federal agencies operate stronger. Further, by working with a technology partner who’s experienced in implementing these platforms, agencies can be prepared to enact the best solution for their digital transformation goals.

Lowdown on low-code

Low-code/no-code platforms offer drag-and-drop user interfaces to build applications without the need for in-depth, hand-coded computer programming. Those using low-code systems can easily create business applications and address mission needs with talent that isn’t specialized in computer science and software engineering.

Best-suited for repetitive tasks, low-code/no-code systems are user-friendly and agile. Because of their simplicity to build, these platforms cannot be extensively customized. An example of common business practices that low-code would be useful for is handling HR onboarding, because the systems can be applied universally to any organization.

Given that these platforms are easy to use, barriers to programming are lower for anyone on staff. In turn, more senior developers can instead focus on more complex issues that require a deeper experience set.

Inside Open Source

Organizations can modify platforms built on open source technology without too many constraints. Open source presents users with more white space for creation and modification. When working on a specific project, open source software is beneficial due to its customizable and collaborative nature.

Further, open source platforms help keep budgets under control, as they don’t require big upfront costs. It may also serve as a “free trial,” before supplemental, paid features are added on.

Open source also allows for continuous improvements based on an agency’s evolving needs. These systems rely on peer review and community production for their use, which leads to higher quality. By choosing systems that are prepared for changing demands, IT leaders can ensure they are able to remain agile, ultimately saving time and resources in the long run.

A peek into proprietary

On the flip side of open source, proprietary software is licensed and managed by an organization or individual, with its source code kept private. Proprietary software does not allow modification of the source code like open source software does. However, proprietary software vendors often enable the ability to customize features to meet specific business needs. This customization can be limiting and there can be roadblocks to accomplishing certain missions or added costs associated with the project.

Proprietary software can be implemented faster than open source, considering the code is already built for your needs. If you’re looking for a quick turnaround, proprietary software may be the best way to go. There’s also less need for internal talent to update the system, handle security, or enact feature enhancements. However, proprietary software can often be expensive due to licensing costs.

Putting a platform (or two!) into action

The reality of the digital transformation process is that agencies will often need to implement a combination of platforms to accomplish their goals. Product teams should start with a keen focus on customer outcomes, including user experience, rather than become distracted by a plethora of potential features.

It’s key to offer product teams the autonomy to decide what they are looking for, but simultaneously provide safe guard rails, such as a common software delivery framework, to ensure they don’t drift too far. Business practitioners’ knowledge coupled with the expertise of an innovation partner that understands the mission, practices, as well as platforms, allows for the most seamless process.

Since platforms aren’t one-size-fit-all, engaging with an experienced innovation partner to advise and implement these technologies will ensure agencies accomplish their desired outcomes. A team consisting of key decision makers on the business side, internal IT leaders and external technology professionals is best equipped to implement a modernization strategy that best fits the organization’s needs.

Kyle Tuberson is chief technology officer for ICF.