Victor Foulk, CGI Federal

Victor Foulk

Vice-President, Emerging Technologies

In recent years, hype around low-code (or no-code) platforms suggested organizations could unleash creative freedom, to quickly create and launch new applications with drag-and-drop user interfaces, and integrate the apps with one another.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  Solutions built upon different low-code platforms do not inherently fit together with a simple snap. 

In fact, when an agency provides multiple low-code platforms without a roadmap, the results are often counterproductive. You need plans for building and launching capabilities over time and guidance on how the platforms talk to each other, or you can end up with duplicative capabilities, duplicated efforts, limited interoperability, higher licensing costs and low user adoption. 

We’ve been down this road before 

When agencies first adopted cloud, there was a rush to demonstrate successful migration. Many resorted to a “lift and shift” of workloads intended for traditional on-premises information technology (IT) implementations. Because their creators had not designed them to make use of cloud-native capabilities, they did not always bring the expected benefits of cloud migration. This reflected a failure to develop a long-term vision for their cloud strategy.

Over time, the government learned it needed a roadmap for its cloud adoption as they started finding more and more dependencies among initiatives run by different groups. It became clear that having a common roadmap could have shortened timelines, reduced effort and saved costs. 

Agencies need to borrow from their cloud adoption playbooks and develop a low-code development governance plan as part of their overall digital strategy

We’ve seen a similar footrace with the accelerated adoption of low-code and no-code platforms. The excitement behind the low-code movement led many federal organizations to undertake pilots, then production implementations within a very short period. 

At many agencies, individual programs have adopted low-code platforms to meet unique business requirements and selected tools to implement a new low-code system under a licensing agreement. As a result, agencies are experiencing the same growing pains as they did with cloud adoption – low-code solution sprawl, with higher costs and, often, low user adoption. 

To improve overall return on investment, agencies need to borrow from their cloud adoption playbooks and develop a low-code development governance plan as part of their overall digital strategy. 

Optimizing agency return on investment for low-code solutions

Programs are already adopting low-code and no-code solutions. IT leaders can help programs establish a path forward that delivers the most efficient, cost-effective, secure and manageable adoption of low-code technologies at the department or enterprise level.  

To map this path, we recommend chief information officers (CIOs):

  1. Build an inventory of low-code platforms your organization uses. Analyze the license agreements associated with each platform to understand whether the license model is appropriate to the solutions currently supported by that platform and the roadmap for future implementations. 
  2. Evaluate the vendor before selecting any new platform. Look at the level of customer support provided, typical response time to tickets, level of Section 508 conformance, FedRAMP certification, SLAs provided and interoperability with other systems and applications.
  3. Collect lessons learned from all low-code implementations across the agency. Sharing of past challenges and hurdles enables others to avoid similar obstacles. The agency’s Office of the CIO can be a key advisor for new implementations—both large and small. The CIO’s office and supporting organizations should collaborate with the business to evaluate adoption success factors.
  4. Involve key business stakeholders early in the solution process. They should remain engaged throughout the implementation process, participating in key activities such as scope definition, requirements gathering, solution review and user acceptance testing.
  5. Focus on configuration over customization. Use platform features to build product capabilities, rather than custom coding. Avoid customizations that can make future upgrades and maintenance challenging. 
  6. Review available out-of-the-box modules before building a new application. Many low-code platform providers have pre-built solutions for common business applications. Further, evaluate your platform roadmap before starting to build any applications. Applications built on the same platform may be able to share common data or capabilities.
  7. From time to time, analyze license utilization across all platforms. Determine whether options exist for renegotiating— based upon an enterprise view of utilization across implementations of a given platform. 

These steps will inform a well-developed low-code governance strategy that can enable programs and organizations to make the best-informed decisions to achieve return on investment.  The aim is to set a positive trajectory for IT investments that enhance mission delivery. Enabling the mission is always the most important purpose of the enterprise strategy. Governance guarding against solution sprawl is simply a means to that end. 

Read more about how low-code solutions can empower "citizen developers' within agencies to create new tools — and why governance is necessity. 

About this author

Victor Foulk, CGI Federal

Victor Foulk

Vice-President, Emerging Technologies

Victor Foulk leverages innovation as a strategic growth enabler for many of CGI Federal's key business sectors.