Taxpayers expect Federal agencies to do more with less. That is especially true for mission support functions like Finance, Budgeting, Real Property, Logistics, Risk Management and HR. These functions do for the organization what public utilities do for the economy. They keep things going. The catch is, today’s mission support processes are indistinguishable from the IT systems that automate them. This symbiotic relationship has several implications. First, when the IT systems aren’t up and running, neither are the mission support processes. And second, the mission support processes can only be improved as quickly as the IT systems can be modernized. Unfortunately, most agencies have so much technical debt they spend >90% of their IT budget just keeping the lights on. This only leaves <10% of the IT budget to modernize in support of improved speed, cost, quality and security of mission support functions.
As the commercial sector has already proved, the fastest approach to modernizing mission support processes is to replace your legacy IT with subscriptions to SaaS platforms. Yes, the era of the platform has arrived for common processes like Finance, Budget, Real Property, Logistics and HCM. Platforms come in a range of alternative packages, with 3 primary categories: core, connector, and satellite.
The core, SaaS-based Enterprise Application platforms provide robust end-to-end processes to enable the full set of value creation and delivery transactions in mission support. The market leaders offer robust, industry best-practices for process model, workflows, data analytics, and options for customization-through-configuration that minimize future technical debt
“Platform adoption doesn’t start with the technology. It starts with process change…changing the way we do business.”
– Jane Rathbun, DASD Information Warfare & Enterprise Services, and CTO for the DoN CIO Address to the 2021 Navy Forum
Satellites like no-code / low-code solutions provide easy to use interfaces – such as drop-and-drag pallets or “point-and-click” modeling tools – that accommodate specialty requirements within various, niche sub-organizations. These are particularly attractive for non-technical users. Satellites are best for developing software that involves limited volumes, simple workflows, straightforward back office processes and a predictable number of users. One good example is IT asset management. Satellites are also good for proof-of-concept exercises to guide future requirements.
Connectors, platforms like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), provide light-weight, pint-to-point integration of data flows through existing user interfaces, without the need for application modernization.
Every organization has both common requirements and unique edge cases. This core + satellites + connectors model delivers economies of scale for common requirements plus the opportunity for rapid response to change at the edge.
The power of SaaS platforms
Whether core or satellite or connector, cloud native SaaS platforms offer a number of attractive characteristics:
They are designed to be evergreen. Every part of the platform – from roadmaps to R&D budgets to the software engineering disciplines and tool chain – is designed to deliver a continuous wave of future upgrades and enhancements. They also address the evolving threat landscape.
They enable customization without code through a wide range of configuration options and parameters. Even policy can be entered in machine-readable forms or rule sets for rapid implementation.
They are embedded in robust client-partner networks. You get the benefit of participating as the larger ecosystem develops new best practices. When you work at scale, you learn at scale.
They enable you to short-cut the traditional IT development cycle. Adoption is a matter of moving your data and your users, along with a healthy dose of Change Management.
They operationalize governance through automation, not approvals. Traditional approval processes revolve around periodic releases. Cloud-native platforms use automation instead: automation of testing; automated embedding of security controls; automation of infrastructure provisioning through templates.
Thinking about adopting SaaS platforms? Get real!
Ask yourselves a few tough questions:
- Can we afford to skip the opportunity to modernize the way we’re doing business?
- What quantitative evidence do we have that our current approach delivers superior value?
- How do we change the way we’re doing business, so we don’t need a custom capability?
- What processes will benefit from scale and standardization?
- What activities represent edge cases in the long-tail?
They are exposed to and create vast amounts of data, which means they provide excellent opportunities to learn. That learning can lead to improved services. “The more data, the better the algorithms. The better the algorithms, the better the quality of service” is William Janeway’s positive feedback law of machine learning.
They are self-configuring and self-healing, reducing the interruptions to data flows. Their machine learning also adapts internal workflows and external services to the experience of customers.
The flexibility and options created by assembling SaaS platforms from the cloud give government organizations new freedoms: to experiment, to scale, and to offer citizens digital access to customized services. IT teams can invest their time in configuring cloud components, instead of stitching together the plumbing. The result is solutions that deliver higher performance in mission support and do it faster than forklift cloud migration.