Government Technology Insider was joined by Jason Adolf, Federal Practice Lead for Appian to discuss the challenges that agencies face and how enterprise application platforms can help businesses operations immediately as well as the long term benefits it offers.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): Thank you for joining us, and welcome to the Government Technology Insider podcast! I’m your host Peter Jacobs here with Jason Adolf, Federal Practice Lead for Appian. Thanks for talking with us, Jason.
Jason Adolf (JA): Thanks for having me on today.
GTI: Jason, when we’re talking about enterprise application platforms, we’re really talking about the backbone of your business operations, that is, the applications that tie your systems to the capabilities and services that support the real-world needs of users. So, what should buyers be looking for, and what are the key factors they need to keep in mind?
JA: I think what we’ve seen, as far as what are the key factors for making this type of buy, I think with our government customers, the key is flexibility and so when we’re talking to our customers about their missions, especially in the government, the mission can vary so much from organization to organization that dropping an enterprise platform into an organization doesn’t just occur. It’s never a green field, for use of the term. And so we have to be cognizant of the infrastructure that they have today, we have to be cognizant of the investments that they’ve made in other tools over the years, we have to be cognizant of the legacy data that may exist in their environments, and so we need to make sure that when we go and talk to customers about this, it’s how do we account for things that already exist, how do we remain flexible, and how do we provide an ease of use for the non-technical users in their environment. So we don’t want to just go in and say, look, we can connect everything in your environment, but it’s going to take very expensive resources and significant skill sets to do that. We want to say, look, we can take a light touch into your environment; we want to be able to provide you that flexibility to integrate into the infrastructure that you have and we want to be able to allow people of varying skill sets to participate in the modernization efforts that they might be undertaking.
I think there’s some other key things and we talk about reliability and speed and things like that… I think that for the most part, most enterprise platforms today operate very quickly, I think processing power is relatively cheap, I think most tools can scale to meet the significant needs of our federal customers, and I think from that perspective, the last thing that I would probably guide our customers on is when it comes to security, and when we talk about cloud or on-premises, I think, specifically around cloud, FedRAMP is kind of the standard today and I think almost every customer is demanding that if you going to do cloud, it needs to be FedRAMP. And so, we focus quite a bit on the security of our products just because I think that’s a common denominator for every one of our customers.
GTI: Since you brought it up, there are development platforms on the market that are strictly built for the cloud, while others are made for on premise deployment. Is there a “best” answer for most organizations?
JA: You know, I actually don’t think it’s always the right answer and I know that may be heresy among this industry but, again, talking about flexibility, some customers just aren’t ready for it and some customers, for whatever reasons, can’t go to the cloud and they may have data they don’t want to put in the cloud or are not comfortable putting in the cloud. And so, I think there’s a time horizon over the next couple of years where what you’re going to see is a number of different camps. You’re going to have customers that will start on premises and they will slowly migrate to the cloud, you’ll have customers that’ll go straight to the cloud, and you’ll have customers that’ll actually do some kind of hybrid where they are maybe the vendor, such as Appian, doing a managed service for their application but the data lives inside of a firewall or an enclave that they feel comfortable with.
And so, you know, it would be presumptuous for me to say that there’s a best answer. I think that clearly the government understands that there’s some advantages of moving to the cloud that come from a reduction in infrastructure cost, the scalability, some inherent security that they can receive through FedRAMP and by dealing with giant cloud companies like Amazon. So, I don’t think there’s an issue that people don’t understand that there’s value there. I just think that there’s certain customers that can’t go there yet and so, for us, we want to offer as much flexibility as possible and so Appian has taken the position that if you want to do cloud, you want to do hybrid, you want to do on-premises, it doesn’t really matter to us, we’re happy to support any of those modes and, frankly, we have customers that’ll start doing development in the cloud and they will port their application to an on-premises environment and there’s no change in how that functionality works. So, I think that there’s clearly benefits of all of those approaches, but it really boils down to what is that agency, what is that department, what can they accept, what can they do, and I believe that, at least for the next couple of years, having that flexibility for these customers is going to be critically important.
GTI: Well, it makes perfect sense that flexibility should be built into the solution, especially with digital transformation on everyone’s mind as we’re seeing it implemented throughout the government. Are there issues and benefits and risks that decision-makers are forced to think about? They’ve got to do so much now, not only with technology but also with the responsibility to the taxpayer, with regulations and, of course, with security especially when it comes to personal data. What should federal decision-makers be thinking about when it comes to where their application development resides and how it’s implemented?
JA: You know, when I’m talking to our customers, the thing that we like to talk about is providing options and how they’re going to solve their problems, there’s no federal CIO that has only one system or only one database or only one web application server, and so we can’t go into those conversations and tell them that there’s only one right way to solve the problem. And so, we like to be able to take application development platforms such as ours, say that, look, we’re going to offer you one way to do things, but if that doesn’t work, here’s five other ways you can do the same thing. And that could be to solve a number of different problems. That could be because they have infrastructure they can’t get rid of, that could be because they have data that they can’t change at this time, that could be because they don’t have funding to do something a certain way.
And so, what we want to be able to do is allow them to actually do some modernization but not be beholden to a specific way of doing that modernization that only a proprietary method might be. We want to give them that flexibility to solve the problems in a number of different ways. And I think the same goes for security. So, of course security’s on everybody’s mind and of course that number one issue for anybody is going to be security. But even with that, when we talked about cloud or hybrid or on-premises deployment, some CIOs might have different views on what that level of security is, what their agency will allow them to do, or what the sensitivity level of that data is.
And so, to us, I think, again, if I was sitting in their shoes and I’m thinking about how am I going to modernize a broad set of things with the least amount of tools possible, it’s going to be what provides me with flexibility, what provides me with options, and how can I use those things to solve a variety of different challenges so I don’t have to go out and buy 10 more products to modernize my portfolio.
GTI: Modernization makes me think of ‘what’s coming next,’ and it’s so difficult to predict what technologies we’ll be seeing, even in the near term. So, what about future-proofing? What can technology leaders do to deal with future-proofing their application development systems?
JA: That’s a great question, and we tackle this all the time. And so, when you talk about future-proofing, I have some thoughts, look, there’s a lot of great products that have come out that integrated what we would consider leading edge tools. You have artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, blockchain, etc., and those technologies are evolving very, very quickly and so, with us, at Appian, what we’ve attempted to do is say, look, we’re not going to go out and build our own AI engine and bundle it with the product because who knows, in six months, what the next, best thing is going to look like in AI. And so, what we’ve done in order to allow our customers to future-proof their applications is say, look, we’re just going to make it as easy as humanly possible to connect to whatever that next thing is. And so we’ve focused a lot on providing simple integrations for a broad swath of leading edge tools. You’ve got connectors for RPA tools, you’ve got connectors for AI tools, and we’re working on connectors for blockchain. But the idea is that the pace at which technology is changing is so rapid that I wouldn’t want to say to a customer that, look, the only way that you can do AI and, let’s say, integrate it into a case management application is to do it our way, because three months from now, who knows what somebody is going to come up with that they might want to use that could be better at doing that.
And so, we want our customers to say, today, to do this machine learning algorithm, I want to use Amazon services. But you know what, six months from now, Google might roll out with something that’s better than what I’m doing at Amazon and I want to be able to switch to Google. So, why should there be a penalty for doing that? And so, our philosophy along the lines of future-proofing is, how do we integrate, how do we give people options to integrate and allow them to make those choices today, but not penalize if they want to change their minds six months down the road, eight months down the road, or two months down the road. We’re not trying to see the future as much, we just know that there’s always going to be something new to integrate with and we’re going to do our absolute best to create an environment where those integrations are simple.
GTI: Jason, any final thoughts about what an enterprise application platform can do for an organization, or things that the technology leaders need to consider?
JA: You know I’ll go back to the theme that I brought up. It’s flexibility, it’s how many ways can I solve the problem. And so, I would tell folks that if they’re looking for a couple of things, it’s going to be that flexibility is the platform based on standards so I’m not learning something proprietary. If I showed how I’m building things to non-technical users, would they get it? So, that’s where this whole notion of ‘low code’ comes in and not showing people thousands of lines of code but showing them digital representations of their applications. I think, for the most part, we’re seeing more and more of it, and the government is demanding, as they should, that it doesn’t require an army of technical resources to build complicated applications. If I was telling somebody today what you should be looking for and telling somebody in 12 months what you should be looking for, it’s going to be the same thing: how easy is it to build that enterprise application. How much flexibility do I have, is it secure, is it reliable? So those would be the things that I would be looking for.