There are a nexus of forces coming together that are driving federal agencies towards IT modernization, namely:
Changing mission needs that require rapid access to new capabilities, features, information and insights;
Increasing cyber exposures that threaten legacy technologies that require continuous updates to protect critical assets and data;
Aging technologies that require maintenance and updating with little to no increase in budgets despite the mandate to do more.
Additionally, there is pressure to modernize to meet increasing citizen expectations. Government agencies are being driven by both policy and society to keep pace with the consumer experiences delivered by the private sector.
To respond to all of these changes, organizations are considering ways to accelerate modernization—and moving away from custom development is becoming part of that strategy.
“Low-code platforms are good for rapidly migrating or deploying new capabilities into a broader technology ecosystem,” Osama Malik, principal for Digital Strategy and Management at Booz Allen Hamilton, said. “One common feature that most low-code platforms have is the ability for non-traditional developers—business users, end users or even mission owners—to configure and develop workflows and applications.”
This not only provides efficiencies in workforce, but from a culture perspective it allows non-technical talent to interact, engage, and communicate their needs and feedback in ways that were previously less accessible to them. It’s important to note, however, that low-code platforms won’t mean that everyone will become an application developer overnight. Technical talent will still need to build the mission-focused applications—but low-code development opens the door to new ways of communicating with the business to create meaningful, scalable, and experience-driven software.
Where low-code platforms are making an impact
These types of low-code options are gaining traction now, not just because they make it easier for developers to translate mission requirements into capabilities—but also because the new generation of platforms allow for better integration than previous options, more robust automation, and they enable streamlined and secure migration to the cloud.
For example, one of Booz Allen’s citizen-facing clients experienced a major system crash due to the increased demand placed on it from concurrent users. It was a legacy case management system, unable to scale up and down to handle variability in usage—and it was burdened by custom code that prevented modifications to meet legislative changes. Beyond that, the system couldn’t meet its mission to handle citizen cases, with lots of manual and paper-based processing that led to delays and errors.
It was a complex system that needed to work quickly, so Booz Allen brought in a low-code framework to accelerate a solution into production. Through this modern approach to systems delivery, they replaced 1.3 million lines of legacy code in under 18 months—the results included streamlined workflow, automated routing, case alerts, and reference data to drive more consistent decision-making, and enabled rapid implementation of legislative changes. With an agile methodology, Booz Allen continues to work with this partner to iterate and input more functionality with every release.
In these types of environments, Malik said, implementing low-code tools has helped to reduce the modernization processes from years to months with automation. It also reduces costly maintenance and system development spent on updating forms and reports, incorporating new data sets, and creating or modifying workflows—so agencies can direct those funds to drive the core mission. And because low-code comes out of the box with pre-built integrations into common systems and tools that applications tend to need to connect to and exchange data with, agencies can use it as a kind of gateway to machine learning capabilities and artificial intelligence.
Making new connections for data management
Low-code platforms also uniquely allow users to access data where it’s at, aggregate it, and create new workflows and new ways of combining that data, new reporting, and support new business or mission needs that agencies might have.
“In the past, anytime you create an application, you had to make a new connection to the data stores to support that application. With a low code platform, you do that once at the platform level,” Malik said. “Any new application then gets the benefit of that connection to the platform and can leverage that data, and potentially even the aggregate multiple data sources that have all been connected to that platform. So it’s the idea of connecting the data once, and then leveraging that connection many times for different purposes, applications and services.”
In other words, anyone using the platform who has the right permissions can access that data once it’s been connected. Agencies can leverage that data as many times as they want after only connecting it once.
Those connections can improve an agency’s data posture. Consider government employees who are often repeating a set of tasks: They receive a report, export the data into a spreadsheet, manipulate the table, conduct and analysis, then export that table into a desired format to email it to the next person in the workflow. These manual systems provide opportunities for data to get more and more compromised as it goes through the steps, through simple human error. With low-code, the entire process can happen on one platform—with the potential to impact management and transfer for datasets from citizen and financial records to grants and research.
“It’s important to not think of low code platforms as a silver bullet that can do all things for all situations and scenarios and needs,” Malik said. “But it can be a powerful ingredient in a modern IT landscape to provide acceleration, efficiencies and faster time to market for certain types of applications, particularly those that are focused around workflow, case management and business process automation.”