Platforms: More value, more quickly, more securely

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the many benefits of platforms and how adopting a platform approach can support agencies as they deliver digital services. This post will focus on how platforms enable agencies to move faster and address some of the specific challenges facing product teams as they build digital services.

Why platforms?

The number of agencies adopting modern software development practices that are centered around user needs and more iterative delivery is growing. As these agencies mature in their use of these practices, they may look for ways to apply them across a larger footprint of experiences that customers have with their services. This is where platforms come in.

Platforms are an important part of digital service delivery infrastructure because they can help scale usability, security, and inclusive practices across an organization’s customer experience. One of the most important qualities of platforms is that they allow product teams to deliver more value, more quickly, more securely to the people who use government digital services.

Here are three problems every agency faces with digital service delivery that platform-enabled speed can help address.

Speeding up the feedback loop with people

“Government must be held accountable for designing and delivering services with a focus on the actual experience of the people whom it is meant to serve.”

Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience

“Agencies may need to rethink or consider improvements to existing web applications, forms, and associated notices including those that have been in use for many years.”

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memo M-22-10

The word “speed” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience or the accompanying memo to agencies from OMB, but it is most definitely implied.

When agencies adopt a product approach to digital services delivery, the goal is to place users’ needs at the center of the work. This approach uses a process that captures feedback from users of a digital service to make iterative improvements to that service over time. By doing this, agencies can better ensure they’re aligning a product team’s work with the things that users actually want and need. Ultimately, this approach will improve people’s experience with a government digital service.

A common problem agencies face in adopting a product approach is that it can take a long time to deploy new software or make changes to existing software. Bespoke cloud infrastructure, one-off tooling and components, and a difficult pathway to an ATO can all significantly slow down the deployment of digital solutions.

A key component of an efficient product management cycle is the ability to quickly respond to users’ needs through successive iterations. When an agency can’t iterate quickly enough, this cycle is broken. This is where the rapid iteration that platforms enable comes into play.

Platforms provide product teams with important tools they need to deliver value quickly. A platform can provide pre-authorized, easily scalable cloud hosting for an agency application, automated delivery pipelines, documentation, easy-to-use data APIs, and a clearer pathway to an ATO. Platforms can provide the building blocks for digital services like application starter kits, templates, design systems, and other reusable components that can jump start development of a digital service.

And because platforms enable a separation of responsibility between the team running the platform and the team building the digital service, they narrow the scope of responsibility of a product team’s efforts. This allows them to focus solely on improving a digital service and delivering changes faster.

Because platforms enable product teams to move faster, they help ensure a higher quality user experience by more rapidly incorporating changes that users want. Platforms help deliver on the promise of speed implied in any good product management approach.

Speeding up security and bug fixes

“The ability to deliver software rapidly and reliably and provide high levels of availability is a powerful tool. It allows organizations to keep up with compliance and regulatory changes, and deliver critical software patches and updates necessary for security quickly and reliably.”

State of DevOps Report, 2019

Speeding up the delivery of new and modified software is a great way to ensure a successful product approach to digital service delivery. But that’s not the only benefit. Speeding up delivery of new or enhanced software accelerates an organization’s ability to respond to security issues and other critical bug fixes.

Product teams can reap security and compliance benefits from platforms in two ways. First, platforms can help reduce the surface area for compliance requirements by offloading responsibility for specific controls to a platform team. This allows the product team to focus more directly on the features and functions users need, which reduces complexity and duplication in developed software.

Second, when security issues arise that relate directly to the software components making up a digital service, a well-architected platform enables the rapid releases of updates to that software. Organizations that are positioned to more rapidly deploy software updates are better insulated from the issues that arise when vulnerabilities or bugs are detected in software components and dependencies.

The speed enabled through a platform approach not only helps agencies develop better digital services, but it can also help make those services more secure.

Speeding up an agency’s response in times of crisis

“Before the COVID-19 crisis, many government agencies had begun migrating in-person interactions into digital services. Now, every agency, from federal to local, needs to envision a way they can serve their constituents with as little in-person contact as possible.”

Greg Gershman, Ad Hoc CEO and Co-Founder

There is another benefit to the ability to deploy and modify digital services more rapidly that agencies have become all too familiar with in recent years. When crises arise, time is of the essence and agencies need to adjust quickly. This is where platforms can help.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for governments to change the way they deliver services. Agencies rushed to transform previously in-person transactions to digital ones, to modify existing services to accommodate newly approved benefits, and to handle massive increases in the scale of demand for services. To address these needs, governments relied on their existing digital infrastructure, much of which was not designed with a platform approach in mind. As a result, many agencies struggled to meet the demands brought on by the pandemic.

As agencies ready themselves for the next crisis, adopting a platform approach can better prepare them for the demands on digital services. Pre-authorized, easily scalable cloud hosting can be used to more easily ramp up resources to meet spikes in demand. Reusable components and design systems can be employed to make changes to existing services.

Platforms provide the building blocks for digital services, and agencies that have them in place will be better equipped to respond as needs evolve over the course of a future crisis.

Speed is a virtue

Adopting a platform approach to digital service delivery can help agencies more quickly respond to the needs of real users. It can enhance the ability to address compliance requirements and security issues as they arise. And it can better position government agencies to respond to future national crises.

Adopting a platform strategy should be a key component of how government agencies design and deliver digital services.