Speed is not something normally associated with the federal government, between tight budgets, layers of bureaucracy and red tape trying to acquire and implement next-generation IT can be a frustrating process. While there are many mandates – including FITARA and the DCOI – intended to drive IT modernization efforts, as well as the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGTA), updating agency IT infrastructure is not a simple task. It requires significant planning and evaluation, not only about which technology to acquire, but how the legacy infrastructure can connect to the next-generation technologies and how this will all affect the agency’s ability to deliver services to constituents.
With the critical nature of mission activities, the IT modernization process needs to occur much more quickly than it is currently, but without introducing the types of risks that come with a focus on quick execution and delivery. So, how can this process be sped up without risking error?
One way to speed up the adoption of new IT and processes is by partnering with a strategic professional services organization that understands how to jumpstart the modernization process and deliver quick wins. A quick success demonstrates not only the value of the investment, but also paves the way towards self-sufficiency and validation of system validation, guaranteeing that future IT infrastructure improvements are funded.
To learn more about the role professional services organizations can play in IT modernization, as well as the importance of making agency teams self-sufficient, we sat down with Blake Templeman, VP of Professional Services at Appian. Here’s what Blake had to say:
Federal Technology Insider (FTI): Last month we talked with your colleague, Jason Adolf, about jumpstarting federal agencies on their IT modernization journeys. How can professional services engagements help with that?
Blake Templeman (BT): Federal engagement really benefits from using qualified professional services teams to aid in delivery. The first area of benefit is really taking the time to build a proper validation of the use case. Anytime you’re going to go through an application modernization, you want to make sure that you’re doing things correctly so that you don’t have to modernize again six months or a year down the road. The second cruciak area is that a strong professional services organization can help an agency better-understand not only what their needs really are, but also how a given technology can be best implemented to deliver on those needs. These are insights that can only be gained through experience. When we go into engagements, our professional services teams are well equipped with all of the resources required, including the Appian playbook, which describes in great detail best practices learned from doing 1000s of customer engagements.
In terms of next steps for these professional services, we always like to make sure that agencies are in a position to continue developing and improving these applications on their own. With the knowledge we provide them at the start and through an initial implementation, agencies can become self-sufficient fairly quickly to build additional applications on their own down the road.
FTI: In our previous discussion with Jason, he talked about “accelerators.” Tell us a bit more about the platform, the accelerators concept, and what that will enable federal CIOs and their teams to accomplish.
BT: Accelerators are something I’m very passionate about. We’ve really focused our efforts on a handful of areas but are beginning to develop them in several additional areas. We have accelerators focused on grants management, personnel, security management, fleet management and correspondence and task management. All of those accelerators are great launch pads for building your first application on the platform.
One of the great benefits of these accelerators is they can easily be managed by a small group of team members instead of needing entire teams for each application. And because they are on the same platform, all of these applications have the ability to interact with each other and are seamlessly interlinked.
But really the reason that I’m most excited about accelerators is it’s extremely quick to market. A customer could have one or more applications live and ready to use in a month and we’re trying to continue shortening that timeframe. There are larger applications out there that could take six months to a year to build and we’ve been able to trim that down to three to six months. We’re always finding ways to jumpstart and speed up delivery because things change so fast. If you’re working for a year or two years on deploying something, by the time you’re finished, your application will probably be out-of-date and you’ll end up having a host of changes. This is why getting our customers’ applications live even faster is our goal with accelerators.
We have agencies that are using Appian to do billions of dollars worth of grants management, where they have independent grantees using the platform. This has really eliminated a lot of the paper processes and has really helped automate a lot of the necessary reporting and transactions.
We’re also seeing agencies use the correspondence and task management accelerator to do examinations of banks, which is a huge step in the right direction. With that accelerator in place, you have a lot of ad-hoc capabilities at your fingertips, so whatever crops up from examination to examination, the system doesn’t need to be rebuilt or enhanced. All the power is in the user’s hands to route work appropriately and involve anyone necessary in the process.
FTI: A lot of these accelerators seem like they’re applicable across several different industries and markets. Of course, a lot of federal agencies have unique requirements, missions, and needs compared to the private sector. Has Appian been tailoring those accelerators to meet those unique needs of federal agencies?
BT: Absolutely. We’ve been working with agencies and subject matter experts to ensure that these accelerators are targeted to meet the requirements in the federal space specifically. We’re doing that because we know most of the federal agencies follow a lot of the same guidelines, so that gives us a starting point. The beauty of this structure is it’s so easy to configure and change, so the foundation exists, but if any specific changes need to be made for any given agency, that delivery speed is still there.
Using the experience that we’ve gained from our projects in the federal space and working with our federal customers, we’ve been able to figure out the right solution that covers 70 percent to 90 percent of the needs of most agencies.
FTI: What’s an example of this adoption of accelerators in federal agencies?
BT: The one agency I referenced earlier that’s using the technology for bank examinations is a great example of how accelerators can sort of build on themselves. With the examination process, the examination will be finished and then needs to be routed around the agency for all the necessary sign-offs. That agency has found this accelerator to be so beneficial that they have asked to be notified of future accelerators developed in the future. That decision to remain involved in the accelerator program greatly reduces their up-front cost of development because of the framework we already have in place. They have actually identified eight other projects similar to the current one that they plan to apply the same accelerator to across the board. That really speaks to the reusability of the accelerator format. When you build something once, you’re able to quickly reuse it and complete other projects with it.