Developing sustainable digital public services with low-code
The year is 2023, and the need to address our changing climate is as urgent as ever. A couple of months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report with a clear (if not obvious) message: we still have the power to change the future of our warming planet, but we need to take action now.
While this is good news, organisations accelerating into the digital era face a difficult question: By adopting digital technologies, are we helping the planet, or are we just contributing to the global rise in energy consumption?
This is a valid concern, especially considering that maintaining data centres is currently responsible for up to 1.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (at least 100 million tonnes per year). However, there are digital technologies that can be powerful allies for companies looking to scale their solutions while using as few resources as possible.
As the race to net zero becomes a global priority, with governments expected to lead by example, public services organisations must consider which technologies will help them continue their digital transformation journey while keeping sustainability top of mind.
So, digital public services are becoming an imperative, but like many things in life, making real progress is easier said than done. Last year, a McKinsey survey of public-sector leaders found that nearly 80% of major change efforts fall short of meeting their objectives. Let’s unpack how, then, successful agencies are being able to overcome the challenges of digitisation and successfully rethinking public services.
Overcoming the roadblocks to digital transformation
The most common reasons why governments are struggling to transform today are:
- legacy systems that have been in place for decades, and therefore are too difficult and/or costly to update;
- a widespread tech skills shortage affecting both private and public sectors, which makes recruiting digital talent extremely competitive and difficult;
- siloed departments, agencies and geographic units, all of which have strong legal independence, making collaboration and communication difficult without a common digital channel.
But there are organisations that are successfully reshaping public services despite these challenges. The key to their success? A coordinated, holistic approach that brings all stakeholders to the table.
A popular quote often attributed to Pablo Picasso says that “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, public sector leaders have great examples to look at when it comes to deriving best practices and outcomes.
In recent years, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has developed a range of applications, including a mobile app that enables taxpayers to manage their tax affairs on the go. Another example, Service New South Wales has been communicating its digital ID journey as a new, better way to service citizens in today’s world — and receiving extremely positive feedback from that.
Studying successful digital transformation cases helps leaders identify the benefits of digital technologies and build a use case to convince internal stakeholders. In addition to seeking inspiration from others and developing programs that communicate these benefits, another way to engage employees is to involve them in the process themselves. Governments that seek out ways to connect with their employees’ sense of purpose and harness digital tools to strengthen innovation and collaboration are better prepared to step up delivery and face the challenges of the future.
This is where technologies such as low-code application development platforms come in. Leveraging pre-built modules, intuitive interfaces, drag and drop visual environments and automation, low-code platforms require a different skill set than traditional, extremely technical coding methods. They are built to give both technical and non-technical employees with different business skill sets the ability to collaborate and co-develop the software solutions they need.
In other terms, with a low-code approach, IT resources are no longer a bottleneck to creating digital services.
Today, capability for change is underpinned by powerful learning journeys for employees and an understanding of how data and analytics can help drive innovation. Digital tools and techniques drive more engaging communication, as well as better delivery. So a successful digital transformation effort in public services can:
- inspire employees to learn new skills and identifying potential career development pathways within the organisation;
- boost efficiency and employee productivity;
- improve the delivery of services and solutions for citizens, helping strengthen the trust they have in government.
Leveraging technology to develop sustainable digital solutions
For citizens, it’s all about trust. Our world is constantly changing, and public services must be agile to respond rapidly to challenges like COVID-19, natural disasters and crises. By investing in sustainable digital public services, governments are building solutions for longevity and durability while meeting the public’s current needs (and the needs of generations to come).
Here are some technologies and approaches that can help with that.
Low-code application development platforms
As one of the most promising areas of technology, low-code application development offers companies in the private and public sectors an efficient, more sustainable and cost-effective way to build and launch software solutions. According to Mendix’s Low-Code Verticals Study, 48% of public sector leaders across the globe see low-code as a tool that empowers the public sector to create user-centric, long-lasting and future-ready digital systems.
Low-code’s ability to speed up the application development process and reduce costs, alongside its flexibility for quick iterations and testing, make it an important ally of sustainable growth. Which is why it has been gaining popularity in recent years.
While the traditional software development process demands technical knowledge for coding and can be time-consuming and expensive, low-code application development platforms use intuitive and automated features to empower both technical developers and non-technical professionals to develop software at speed, helping them develop and deploy new solutions up to 10 times faster than the traditional method.
This rapid application development system is not only important for building software from the ground up, but it also enables public services to customise existing technologies and rapidly adapt to the ever-evolving needs of citizens. For the agencies that are still not ready to let go of legacy systems, low-code application development can be used to create flexible software that integrates to the rest of the existing infrastructure.
Another benefit of these platforms is their ability to reduce the risk of failure — something that government agencies are extremely aware of — as system failures can impact the larger population and erode citizen trust. The traditional long cycles of application development can make detecting and fixing errors difficult and costly for organisations. But by enabling developers to iterate and test quickly throughout all stages of the process, it de-risks development, reduces the possibility of errors and improves the quality of the final product, providing safer, better experiences for citizens.
Low-code and data analysis for creating long-lasting digital services
New, enhanced data management solutions are supporting public organisations in creating more sustainable digital services. So much so that Gartner predicts that by 2024, 60% of government AI and data analytics investments will directly impact real-time operational decisions and outcomes.
Data analytics help governments:
- gain a deeper understanding of citizens’ needs and make better-informed decisions
- combat fraud
- minimise system errors
- streamline operations
- reduce costs
- strengthen the quality of services.
Leveraging low-code application development, public service organisations can quickly develop and deploy multiple data analysis platforms aimed at harnessing the power of specific sets of citizen data. The right set of data will also inform the development of citizen engagement portals and digital transformation solutions.
According to Mendix’s Low-Code Verticals Study, 3 in 10 public services leaders believe low-code helps organisations cope with the growing volume of data and could better integrate with data and processes than traditional software development.
A modular approach to creating a scalable IT architecture
As part of a strategy to speed up IT delivery, simplify back-end integration and create positive user experiences for public services, governments must streamline the enterprise IT architecture across the public sector. One way to do that is using modular basic components combined with — you guessed it — low-code development.
Most public service transactions follow a similar structure we’re all used to: users fill in a form, then they provide supporting documentation, authenticate themselves and sometimes, before submitting the request, they pay a service fee. Following this, sometimes public authorities will contact users through secure messages to inform them about the status of their applications.
Following a modular approach, governments develop scalable IT components for each of the recurring elements of these transactions, instead of trying to find one single software that encompasses all of them.
Think of it like this: instead of trying to fit processes inside the rigid functions of one single software, a modular approach blends best-of-breed technologies that combine to create the best possible solution to meet user expectations and market demand. Having the flexibility to continuously build and rebuild the best-possible solution guarantees longevity and durability for the software.
As a consequence, projects that previously took months or years and required huge budgets now take weeks and incur much reduced cost for software development. Given the large number of services that governments need to digitise, investment in modular design and low-code development capabilities pays off fast.
What if you didn’t have to compromise?
What if public services organisations didn’t have to choose between modernising their systems or delivering impactful and sustainable digital services? Given that there are reliable tools that can help get the job done, the time to act is now.
The need to bring government services into the digital era has never been more urgent. In addition to meeting users’ rising expectations, governments must become more resilient and efficient to deal with unforeseen circumstances and maintain citizens’ trust.
By using low-code application development, data analysis and a modular approach to the IT architecture, governments can reduce complexity, minimise the risk of failure, and develop and deploy digital solutions that are more likely to age well (like a fine wine).
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