How to Stop Repaving the Cow Path and Achieve Digital Transformation in Your Organization

How to Stop Paving the Cow Path & Achieve Digital Transformation

The streets of Boston originally were cow paths, the story goes. It’s probably apocryphal, but it would explain why Boston’s streets seem to meander aimlessly. A more likely explanation is that the city was built on hilly terrain and grew by absorbing smaller towns. The result was a street system that isn’t always efficient and effective.

The same could be said of many government IT infrastructures. Agencies began investing in technology decades ago by computerizing existing workflows – essentially, by paving the cow path. Over time, they added processes, absorbed processes from other organizations, and created ad hoc linkages. The result is an IT infrastructure that’s about as organized as Boston’s oldest streets.

Today, instead of replacing the cow paths, many agencies keep repaving. Doing so might make their IT infrastructure look better. But it doesn’t make it more effective.

What agencies need is the digital equivalent of a modern street system – with a logical structure, efficient integration points, and traffic flows that reflect where people are and where they want to go. Agencies need digital systems that help them reach their goals: more effective processes and outcomes for the people they serve.

Why IT Cow Paths Happen – and Dollars Get Wasted

The existing approach to legacy application modernization is the main driver of cow path paving. When agencies recognize the need to upgrade their systems, they often pursue a multimillion-dollar custom development and deployment that will require multiple years to design, build, and implement.

While multi-year solution development hasn’t ever been ideal, the pace at which technology changes today has made it a mission-critical error. IBM estimates that the average “half-life” of a technical skill is just 2.5 years, demonstrating just how fast technology – and the tech talent that powers it – is evolving. By the time a multi-year initiative is designed and implemented, the new system is already a legacy system.

Start and End with Customer Needs

The solution? Don’t approach system modernization as a technology project. Rather, start with the needs of your customers – the residents, businesses, and other constituencies you serve. Ask yourself how you can most effectively help your customers achieve better outcomes. The answer will dictate what you need from technology. It will tell you whether you need to repave the cow path or digitally transform.

Customers of all types increasingly demand digitized services, with convenient, efficient access to resources and always-on insights into processes. The COVID-19 pandemic only raised these expectations.

Government leaders are aware of these issues. They’re mindful that they need to become nimble enough to respond to future drivers – the next pandemic, natural disaster, or economic shock. They know voters expect government to be doing more, and demonstrate improvements not 10 years from now but during their term in office.

In this environment, repaving the cow path isn’t good enough. Cost savings and process efficiencies aren’t adequate payoffs. The real returns on investment are more effective services and better outcomes for constituencies.

Achieve Outcome-driven Government Faster

There are a variety of ways to achieve digital transformation quickly and cost-effectively:

  • Low-code development platforms (LCDPs)

    LCDPs enable technical and even non-technical users to efficiently create new custom applications. Drag-and-drop tools allow users to assemble interfaces, forms, data inputs, workflows, integrations, and other software elements in a graphical environment. LCDPs can significantly reduce the time and cost associated with creating new processes and services.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)

    PaaS is an increasingly common cloud model in which a trusted IT partner delivers a modular bundle of hardware and applications, without the need to build out onsite IT infrastructure.

    The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) leveraged PaaS to deliver services and incentives to New York residents and businesses. A scalable platform built on Salesforce Sales Cloud provides a 360-degree view of contractor engagements. NYSERDA can more effectively onboard contractors, receive incentive applications, and track projects and invoices. The state has extended the scalable platform to more than 30 programs, including solar panel, electric vehicle, and offshore wind initiatives.

  • Pilot Programs

    Digital transformation doesn’t have to mean overnight “rip and replace” of existing investments. Pilot programs enable agencies to achieve quick wins and benefit from lessons learned before expanding digitization.

    Virginia used a pilot program to confirm the advantages of an innovative data sharing framework. It began with the Framework for Addiction Analysis & Community Transformation (FAACT), an initiative to combat the opioid epidemic. FAACT enables law enforcement, healthcare organizations, and other stakeholders to respond to spikes in opioid use and evaluate the impact of relevant programs.

    Based on the success of FAACT, Virginia rapidly repurposed the framework to respond to COVID-19. It then extended the platform to create the Virginia Analysis System for Trafficking (VAST), an initiative data sharing platform used to fight human trafficking.

For an IT infrastructure that empowers your agency to deliver better outcomes, don’t repave the cow path. Don’t simply upgrade hardware or software and hope for the best. Instead, invest in the mindsets, approaches, and technologies that fundamentally change how your agency serves customers and tangibly improve the outcomes those customers achieve.