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Software as a core competency in a digital world
The way software is built is changing. While there will always be big, complex enterprise software systems to support large agencies that require customization, updates and patches, there is a sharp shift toward simpler, more modular and more custom apps. For federal IT leaders, this means deciding not only who plays what application development role in the organization but also how to transform the nature of application development in the agency itself.
This delves into advances in application ecosystems, including the rise of federal app stores; necessary changes to software platforms; the increasingly important role of system wide data; and the opportunity app ecosystems present to federal IT facing constant change as the new normal.
IT applications have been key drivers to the digital transformation of enterprises and agencies. They are helping IT cope with the accelerated pace of change, given the iterative nature of app development, and they are quick to deploy. In addition, application platform providers are able to offer ready-made data services platforms, with sets of services already connected and instant sets of app families available.
This is translating into app adoption not only among consumers and business but also in federal agencies. Over the past couple of years, DISA and NIST have provided substantial security guidelines for mobile applications (e.g. Mobile App SRG), which has supported the development of private app stores that cater to federal users and devices. For example, the General Services Administration (GSA) has developed more than 100 apps using its mobile platform. Four recent products include Rapid Response311, Mobile Communities for Government, Government Social Command Center and Platform Mobile Services for Government.
In addition, app adoption is increasing as security concerns are addressed. A trend toward virtualization of mobile apps is making them platform-independent and able to leave little- to no-footprint on the device for even greater security.
In the consumer world, applications have the luxury of being relatively self-contained. In the world of federal agencies, however, the problems being solved are much more complex and often involve multiple applications to run intricate business processes. To address these problems, federal IT needs something more than a single, nimble app. IT leaders need to think in terms of the application’s ability to connect with other applications. This is giving rise to a push toward libraries or “ecosystems” of applications that can be bolted together to tackle the most challenging problems. As a result, federal IT has an opportunity and a need to evolve software platforms to drive new development of app ecosystems.
At the same time, these software platforms must present data services that offer real-time access to enterprise system data. IT must start opening up the systems, tools and processes that allow federal employees to drive initiatives forward themselves. Prioritization of projects will come from IT partnering even deeper with agency leadership not only to enable them to use the solutions but also to collaborate on the development and procurement of new apps. Finally, federal IT will need to embrace a “hybrid” mindset that incorporates different platforms, local and in the cloud, for different sets of needs.
Federal IT can act immediately by developing a comprehensive strategy that lays out the foundation for enterprise app development. This includes appointing a digital champion to coordinate the development of the app strategy across organizations within the enterprise. In addition, IT will need to determine its ability to enable cloud and mobile apps against its existing service-oriented architecture, API management and platform-as-a-service investments. Based on this assessment, there will need to be a strategy to separate back-end services from front-end apps and a platform that can provide real-time access to enterprise system data.
IT will also need to start a list of enterprise-level apps to be developed, working with management to prioritize the development and procurement of apps according to agency priorities. Working from this list, IT can begin a pilot program for the highest-priority apps. Apps should be made available through an enterprise app store. Once the pilot program is in place, IT can review and update the app process and app governance strategy.
May 12, 2014
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