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Tackling the Challenges of IT Modernization for Federal Government Agencies

IT Modernization for the Federal Government

We sat down with John O’Grady, Client Director for Federal at Unqork, to talk about no-code, defining value in government spaces, and how to tackle the challenges of IT modernization.

Between fostering economic development, fast-tracking relief to constituents in the midst of a crisis, and keeping standard services running smoothly, federal government agencies have a lot on their plates. Unfortunately, the outdated digital solutions that many agencies use aren’t helping them optimize their time, energy, or budgets, nor are they helping agencies work efficiently.

With fifteen years of experience in the industry, Unqork Client Director for Federal John O’Grady has seen the struggles that come with IT modernization in the government sector first hand. Here’s his take on why IT modernization can be so challenging, and how no-code solutions can help:

Why do you think it has been so challenging for federal government agencies to modernize?

John O’Grady: Time limitations make it difficult for agencies to modernize their IT operations. The typical government CIO comes in with a five-year plan, but they rarely stay for a full five years—more often, they stay for around two. With the way the federal government budget cycle works, you basically have a year to spend your money, six months of which can be occupied by the procurement process—proposal submission, review, evaluation, and selection. That means you end up with only six months to demonstrate value to your stakeholders and justify the spend for continuing a transformation effort in subsequent years. That’s not a lot of time when you have hundreds of legacy applications you’re trying to modernize.

By design and through regulation, federal agencies move more slowly than the private sector. There are many laws and acquisition regulations in place to lower the risk to the government and ensure that our tax dollars are well-spent. Unfortunately, these delays often prevent federal IT from moving at the pace of technology. A new agency CIO might decide that the latest enterprise technology isn’t going to achieve mission objectives, the mission objectives themselves might change, or budgets might not come through. There are so many factors that can derail a project, so getting traction can be incredibly difficult.

In fact, I’ve gone through at least four modernization efforts and I wouldn’t call any of them complete. They certainly produced some value, but didn’t move the ball forward enough to be labeled an “IT transformation.” At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to demonstrate value and react to change in the amount of time you’re afforded in the public sector.

Do you define “value” in the context of the federal government differently than in other sectors?

Value in the federal sector is very agency-specific. Each agency or department has its own strategic outcomes, and they say to Congress, “Here’s what we’re doing this year, and here’s the budget. Here’s what we’re going to need from you in order to get it done.” Instead of tying value to a budgetary outcome—because those change so often—value in the federal government sector is often expressed as an increase in mission value. 

"Unqork is the fastest tool for getting you to your mission objectives. Our platform gives you the best of both worlds: All the benefits of custom coding with none of the drawbacks and the ability to build enterprise-grade mission-critical solutions for your stakeholders."

For example, you could say that a project has demonstrated value if it improves the way an agency disseminates information to the public and that effort has led to an increase in public health. Other times, defining value can be as quantitative as counting how many visas were processed or grants were awarded.

If you could create one app to help IT modernization along, what would it be?

I’d start with a solution for contracting and budgeting, then focus on applications that are common across government agencies. In terms of go-to-market solutions, there are probably 50 that nearly all government agencies would benefit from. Managing Freedom of Information Act requests is one; tracking congressional requests would be another. I’d love to see the government sharing more technologies, doing more together, and breaking down silos.

Of the no-code options on the market, why is Unqork the best for federal agencies?

Unqork is the fastest tool for getting you to your mission objectives. Our platform gives you the best of both worlds: All the benefits of custom coding with none of the drawbacks and the ability to build enterprise-grade mission-critical solutions for your stakeholders. Unqork is the pinnacle of abstraction, which really prevents you from getting locked into legacy technology. When technology changes, and that tends to happen pretty quickly, we can just flip the underlying codebase and put in another one without compromising the end-user or engineering experience.

Unqork can also help federal government agencies make the most out of short budget cycles and small budgets. When I started at the Office of the Inspector General, we spent roughly 75% of our budget on maintaining 107 legacy applications. It’s hard to move forward when you’re spending so much on legacy maintenance, and even harder when you’re trying to modernize those same technologies. You’re not really making a dent. One of Unqork’s unique value propositions is that it enables you to keep your legacy technologies around for a while. We can integrate with the tools government agencies use while the agencies strategically make their way through a full digital transformation.

Finally, no-code makes it easy for federal government agencies to break down silos and work more collaboratively. The government is segmented by design, but there are still a lot of commonalities between agencies. Regardless, it’s nearly impossible to share work because everyone is working on different versions of various platforms. Unqork can bridge this gap. With JSON, I can copy my file, paste it into a document (or download it), and send it over to somebody. This person will then have my exact configuration with none of the proprietary data that would normally prohibit sharing data between systems. This gives agencies a great starting point for collaboration.

Want to learn all about Unqork? Have a minute to spare? Watch the above video.

What kinds of use cases can Unqork be used for?

Unqork can tackle all sorts of complex endeavors, including mission-critical applications that are aligned to the primary strategic objectives of the industry. Think subject reconciliation for a law enforcement agency that has to deal with one subject in Miami and another in California who have the same name but slightly different provider numbers or social security numbers. A no-code solution can help streamline and organize that process and make that data actionable. Unqork can automate the work of many analysts so they can focus on the edge cases and apply their expertise more efficiently and intelligently. 

How will Unqork be focusing on federal government initiatives in 2021?

In 2021, we’re focusing on building trust and approaching federal agencies and potential partners in areas where we are the strongest. The government is risk-averse and they’re protecting our tax dollars. We’re showing our federal clients why an investment in Unqork helps to lower that risk while delivering strategic outcomes faster than anything they’ve ever seen before. We’re excited to see how this will help federal government agencies accelerate IT modernization in numerous ways. 

From a technical standpoint, we have new certifications in the works. Unqork is GDPR and SOC 2 certified, and we’re happy to announce that we’re working with a 3PAO and targeting August 2021 for FedRAMP certification. Coupled with GWACs, (Government-Wide Acquisition Vehicles) and our growing list of federal integration partners, we will be well-positioned to help agencies achieve their mission outcomes before the next federal fiscal year. 

To learn more about how the Unqork platform can be used to modernize government agencies, explore our Government Solutions use cases. Also, sign up for the Unqork newsletter to keep up-to-date on the latest in the world of no-code.