The gap between proprietary legacy systems and transformative open source can be broad, but open platforms provide state and local IT with a promising, yet sometimes overlooked, third option.
State and local IT is changing as agencies increasingly place citizens at the center of a sweeping tech modernization movement. Spurring this change is a rising demand among citizens for improved service delivery. They increasingly expect to access government through seamless, user-friendly digital interfaces — akin to the commercial platforms we use every day.
State and local governments must respond or risk losing constituents’ trust. However, agencies face significant hurdles: legacy systems that are hard to migrate or upgrade, a workforce facing an increasing skills gap, and a complex technology landscape that is difficult to navigate when considering digital modernization and procurement of new solutions.
Fortunately, addressing this last point the right way can alleviate the former two. An increasingly popular refrain is that open source solutions should be the first choice of government because they are less expensive, more interoperable, remove dependence on single vendor solutions and encourage better programming practices. In many cases, this is true compared to proprietary solutions. However, open source is not the only way to get these benefits. There is a middle ground that should be considered: open platform solutions.
Open platforms sit between the monolithic enterprise software solutions of the past and today’s open-source-derived software. They provide all the sought-after benefits of open source while avoiding the pitfalls. Open platforms allow data to flow through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs), which create a high degree of flexibility and interoperability. They also can provide a lower total cost of ownership compared to proprietary solutions. Users are able to build on and access a wide range of partner-built solutions, removing the single vendor lock-in issues, all while eliminating core platform maintenance required of open source solutions.
Unfortunately, the distinction between open source and open platforms can get muddied — an understandable confusion since there can be overlap, with some open platforms based on open source code. State and local agencies should ask themselves what the technology requirements are when selecting new enterprise software solutions; what are the reasons for an open source preference and do open platforms meet those needs:
Open platforms can provide states and localities with several advantages. They are typically cloud-based, with the underlying infrastructure and source code managed by the platform provider. This lowers the cost and maintenance burdens on IT shops who can reduce the number of patching and upgrade cycles, and scale up or down as needed without the worry of managing capital IT infrastructure.
Open platforms can also enable IT teams with limited expertise to develop and deploy advanced applications through simple, no-code/low-code capabilities. This provides IT staff with the software “building blocks” to create applications with minimal coding, and help those agencies facing shortages in personnel who are adept at application development. That said, open platforms frequently offer toolkits with more advanced capabilities, so more tech-savvy users can benefit as well.
State and local governments are using open platforms to transform service delivery for a host of essential citizen services. For example, in Denver, the city government struggled to provide 24/7 citizen services. To keep pace with citizens’ needs, the city implemented a digital case management system called Pocketgov Denver, built on an open platform that has helped the city cut average call times by 23 seconds, reduce duplicate data entry and increase overall efficiency of citizen interactions. Overall, by leveraging an open platform, Denver succeeded in creating a more efficient and effective service.
Open platforms simplify the design of efficient, reliable, cost-effective and secure applications, thereby fueling a cycle of citizen-centric modernization and interagency collaboration that is rippling across state and local government. As agencies look toward their digital futures, they would do well to evaluate the open platform.