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A Platform Primer: What It Means for Governments


Government platforms modernize digital services, integrating data through APIs, dashboards and the cloud. Low/no-code tools accelerate development, enabling scalable solutions and improved ROI for IT modernization.

“Platforms” have become a technology buzzword in recent years, and the term means different things to different audiences. But platforms that can enable governments to modernize and expand digital services have common characteristics. Many represent a modern evolution of customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which first found their way into government by powering case management applications. These modern platforms continue CRM’s emphasis on creating a single, unified view of an individual or business for use across a variety of modules and applications, including “engagement layers” that enable interactions over the phone, online or via mobile devices. This approach helped shape the consumer Internet, and it represents a dramatic departure from the typical government experience, where users must engage with different services using separate systems, user accounts and logins — if security concerns allow them to be offered online at all.

“Bridging what everyone sees in our consumer Internet experience and government is the big gap — and platforms can provide a secure experience for those interactions,” says Michael Yeganeh, vice president of solutions engineering for Salesforce.

Platforms simplify the task of launching new services and integrating with existing applications. Instead of relying on custom coding, platforms let organizations create new capabilities by combining common workflow components, which can reduce complexity and save time. At a high level, government functions such as determining benefits eligibility, accepting applications and fulfilling service requests have common steps that can be addressed using common components.

“Governments like to think they’re different and their processes are different, but if they take a step back, a certain repeatability is there,” Yeganeh says.


Among the components and capabilities that make platforms work:

Application programming interfaces (APIs) — These are a critical differentiator of platforms, as they allow agencies to integrate existing systems with a modern, customer-facing front end provided by the platform’s engagement layer. “You can get all the benefits of the engagement layer on the front end without investing in the back end,” Yeganeh says. “That lets governments quickly realize benefits that once took years and required ‘big bang’ modernization approaches.”

A “single source of truth” — APIs let platforms hook into multiple systems and data stores, allowing governments to integrate information in new ways. Over time, data integration provides opportunities to reconcile and eliminate multiple or conflicting data sources. Creating this single source of data also lets agencies quickly add new functionality using existing information, says Nadia Hansen, former CIO of Clark County, Nev., who is now the public sector digital transformation executive for Salesforce.

“Having that one system of record can help scale things up really quickly and for multiple use cases because you’re no longer looking for solutions to every single problem,” she says.

Dashboards and visualizations — Modern platforms let agencies combine data from different sources or use cases and display it in dashboards — the so-called “single pane of glass” often described in marketing materials — to help government leaders and managers make critical decisions.

Cloud architecture — Platforms built on secure cloud architectures eliminate the need to host and maintain systems on-premises, enabling cost savings and agility. Technology providers update the underlying platform, providing support and continuous security updates that help minimize cybersecurity threats.

“The cloud came ready for us to innovate, giving us the foundation to elevate our processes and workflows to bring residents the services they needed, in a way they wanted to receive them,” says Tomashia Robinson, IT project coordinator in New Hanover County, N.C. With limited staff, cloud resources allow the county to focus “on providing the ultimate customer experience,” Robinson adds.

Applications and tool sets Pre-built applica­tions, workflows and tool sets available on platforms — in some cases, through an “app store” model that allows rapid adoption of ready-to-install solutions — help IT departments move away from developing or purchasing complex custom software.

“In the private sector, people don’t build custom applications anymore. They focus on higher-level business requirements, and so much of that can translate to government use cases,” Yeganeh says.

Low/no-code development — Another buzzword with powerful real-world implications, low/no-code tools enable development teams to shift away from custom coding. Instead, they can configure platform components and tool sets to quickly create complex workflows and applications, shortening development life cycles.


Leveraging platform functionality to build government solutions represents a dramatic change from ground-up modernization projects built around custom coding. “More of those have failed than succeeded,” Yeganeh says.

The pandemic provided a range of use cases that highlighted the benefits of an integrated platform approach. “When you’re dealing with a strong and broad platform, you can leverage existing functionality to accelerate delivery of robust solutions for your internal and external stakeholders,” says William Thompson, CPA, deputy executive director of the Florida Prepaid College Board, which helps state residents save for higher education expenses.

One key is the scalability of platforms. Many governments had existing disease surveillance and vaccine administration systems when COVID-19 hit, but most of these systems weren’t designed for the scale of demands triggered by the pandemic. Governments that were able to rapidly spin up contact tracing and vaccination solutions often leveraged cloud-based platforms that drew from existing data sources while providing modern public-facing features such as text messaging and chatbots.

Moving beyond the pandemic, it’s important to look at cases where existing functions like licensing, permitting and inspections can be strengthened through similar integration. A platform strategy can “connect the dots on everything that’s enabling for government,” Dustin Haisler, chief innovation officer at e.Republic*, says.

However, that kind of strategy requires a different approach to IT modernization and application development. “A key theme for us has been a willingness to walk away from ‘how we do it’ and adopt new structures and business processes,” says Thompson. “It reduces testing, time to implementation and overall cost — leading to better project scope and ROI.”

*Note: e.Republic is Government Technology's parent company.