Agile, low code software – leading public sector digital transformation

Digital software
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Pete Wilson, Industry CTO, Public Sector – EMEA, Pegasystems, reveals how agile, low code software is leading digital transformation in the public sector

With its remit to evolve the provisioning of online public services, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been an effective force for change for over a decade. The standards it drives and to which all government departments and agencies are held to account have revolutionised how departments consider digital service design, and how they organise and professionalise that agenda.

However, in 2011 there weren’t many credible commercial off the shelf (CoTs) products that met all of the criteria. The software industry caught up, but it took a few years to meet what GDS categorises as crucial in forming valuable customer services.

This meant that, for a time, it was quicker and easier to build bespoke offerings ‘microservice style’ to meet the requirement for agile development, and to meet the wider service principles that GDS governance reviews demanded.

Public sector digital transformation – how successful?

This led to three issues that increased cost, time and risk in public sector digital transformation:

  1. The creation of very large teams of professional digital developers in many departments, too many of whom are still contractors.
  2. A proliferation of functional components. While these are integrated from a technical standpoint, they are not necessarily the most optimised as end-to-end customer services.
  3. Creation of a culture of iteration, outside of a wider end-to-end customer service mindset.

Fast forward to 2022 and CoTs products fully meet digital service standards and design principles. Now using modern software platforms that both conform to GDS needs and can address time, cost, and risk challenges provide a new best practice.

However, first wave digital architectures still create issues when government department heads implement vendor products alongside them – it can still be expensive, time-consuming and risky versus sticking with existing solutions.

Yet, if departments continue solely with previous bespoke development practices, they will also continue to be subject to cost and labour-intensive delivery.

What’s more, solely maintaining wave one technology for the sake of it does not align with GDS’s principle of ‘integrate and adapt technology’. The idea is that the government should be open to evolution.

Furthermore, although there have been great strides in public sector digital service provision, including delivering API integration into legacy systems, it has generally been connecting siloed processes and data with self-service front-ends, rather than re-imagined digital journeys.

This is not real digital transformation, and certainly isn’t in the spirit of another of GDS’s most fundamental principles, ‘solve a whole problem’, which it defines as working “towards creating a service that solves one whole problem for users, collaborating across organisational boundaries where necessary.”

True digital transformation

It is clear that citizens using government services, whether in education, healthcare, justice or something else, don’t recognise ‘line of business’ boundaries when they interact with each one. This means true digital transformation needs to embrace this key GDS principle and ensure information flows easily across departments from one central hub. Still, this must be carried out in the right way – one that doesn’t unpick the progress made by the public sector in its first wave of digital transformation.

That calls for products that support a variable view over where, what, and how to balance the pace of change with risk and cost. Equally, there is also a need to realise the initial value quickly and continue to iterate that value. That way, transformation can be a cost, time, and risk-effective evolution, rather than a risky big bang event.

Fortunately, there is modern software available that allows organisations to ‘wrap and renew’ old software to minimise risk and undergo digital transformation bit by bit. These low code platforms have scalable architectures and harness artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation to solve key challenges. Government departments can engage them via three steps:

  1. Orchestrate; quickly connect to existing systems, focus on managing the work by leveraging automation to reduce mundane tasks and removing complexity and normalising data, through a single ‘new aggregating platform’.
  2. Renovate; with orchestration in place, users can realise returns on investment earlier, while making ongoing decisions to replace and retire old technology progressively.
  3. Evolve; constant evolution should be the norm, deepening capabilities, automation and application reach, along with empowering personnel to take ownership of solutions.

So long as there are people, government and technology innovations, the ease of interacting with the government will always be an ongoing evolution. In this regard, the key investment for departments becomes products that allow a cost-effective approach that allows them to adapt to rapid change quickly and easily.

The software to achieve this is already available and can bring a host of benefits, from speedier processing of citizen housing provisioning to greater ease for patients booking a GP appointment. It just requires departmental heads to ask the question: ‘Is the technology we are currently using, the best way to achieve our goals or is there a better way?’ and be willing to try a new approach. That way, true digital transformation will be within grasp, and government departments, citizens and even third parties will reap the rewards.”


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