Many state and local agencies jumped from legacy to cutting-edge technologies amid the pandemic, according to a new report.
The “2022 ISG Provider Lens Microsoft Ecosystem Partner” report for the U.S. public sector by Information Services Group (ISG) found that the sudden need for agencies to serve constituents while social distancing coupled with infusions of pandemic-related funding led to a rapid increase in public-sector technology modernization projects.
“There was a sense of urgency that I think helped take down barriers that would have taken years to overcome in a normal situation,” said Nathan Frey, partner at ISG Public Sector. “We saw just a willingness to spend the money to make these things happen out of necessity but also take down preconceived notions” about productivity and security.
In some ways, late adopters are reaping the benefits of their previous caution, skipping the need to work out some of the kinks that their speedier counterparts faced.
Governments were able “to speed their adoption and probably with greater success than early adopters in the private sector,” Frey said. Those companies might have had “growing pains with how are they going to apply the technology, what are the impacts to the organization in terms of skill sets and people’s ability to adapt,” he said.
One technology in particular that has gained steam is software as a service, which allows an application to grow over time and flex with changing expectations, encouraging vendors to deliver new functionality. Plus, “I think why SaaS is starting to be accepted more in public sector is that the annual subscription cost can be part of the base budget,” Frey said.
Microsoft was in the right place at the right time, according to the report. Many agencies adopted Microsoft platforms, largely because of the company’s “strong technology leadership and market strength in the U.S.”
When the pandemic hit, for instance, “Microsoft was fortunate to be in a position where Teams was just coming to the forefront as their new application for collaboration. It was very timely,” Frey said.
Another benefit to latecomer agencies is the community of vendors that have grown to support government modernization efforts – and officials’ openness to working with them.
“Providers offer specialized expertise and employees who can help guide agencies and have the technical understanding to drive implementation,” according to the report. “The Microsoft partner ecosystem … is a complex and diverse group of global systems integrators (GSIs), IT providers, independent software vendors (ISVs), and specialist strategy and advisory firms that provide additional services and technology components atop the existing Microsoft platforms.”
A technology that Frey expects to gain traction is low-code citizen developer initiatives that enable workers outside the IT office to create and use artificial intelligence-enabled applications and automation tools. The report cites Microsoft’s Power Platform as helping to spur such efforts through the Power BI tool for data visualization and analysis.
“ISG notes that providers are now developing specific offerings, designed to put guard rails around low-code development and channel such efforts in ways that are safe, productive and meet the compliance needs of the organization,” the report states. “These include the establishment of centers of excellence for citizen development, monitoring compliance and policy, creating templates for app development, establishing best practice guidelines, undertaking training workshops, monitoring of data and license usage, scanning code for compliance, generating pre-configured APIs and determining templated release cycles.”
A benefit of this accelerated technology adoption is a stronger workforce – or at least the ability to attract one, Frey said. “The new members of the workforce are going to expect to have good applications. They’re not going to have the patience for the lack of integration among systems, all the workarounds that were previously in place,” he said. Agencies need to have “modern systems that work the way the next generation is accustomed – things are in the cloud, they’re always available, they’re interconnected. Those are things that government needs to move toward.”
The pace at which tech adoption is happening is likely not sustainable, Frey added, but he’s optimistic that the lessons learned are.
“As the urgency dies off, I think the ability to react as quickly will also start to fade,” he said, but “now that as the pandemic drove demand, the government is more open to ideas, [and vendors] are focusing their resources now toward the public sector to deliver some of those same capabilities that they probably sold into the private sector five years ago or more.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.