Government Vs. Enterprise — Challenges — Technology to Drive us Forward — No-Code and Low-Code Application Development — Citizen Development in the Government Sector — Common Ground (NL) — Betty Blocks and Government Innovation
It’s somewhat hard to believe: in 4000 BCE, Sumerian’s had the foundations of a basic government. This ancient government ran public programs, created an agricultural workforce, and implemented irrigation and canal systems. 6000 years on, it’s clear the government sector has been influenced by technology, just like all other sectors. Here, we’re going to look at how changes in software development are driving innovation in the government sector.
Good ideas stick around. Sometimes, technological advancements simply can’t improve on these basic ideas; we all know the saying, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Whilst this is true, technology has enabled tires, axles, suspension — all additions that make the wheel infinitely more effective and create new possibilities for its use.
Like the wheel, government as a concept is sound. As long as there are humans, it’s a fairly safe bet there will be government in some form. The same, of course, is true of enterprise. And with every technological advancement, the private sector finds new ways to add value and deliver a better user experience. Can we say the same about government? It would seem the jury’s out.
Take the journey of an industry that’s in some way comparable to government. By comparable I mean it that pre-dates the digital — and even the industrial — revolutions.
Publishing has been around, well, since people began to write. Scribes would copy works by hand, eyes straining against the dimness of candlelight. Thankfully, in the 1400s, the invention of moveable type gave scribes a much-needed respite. The “book” had previously been a relative rarity, reserved only for the rich and powerful. Now, it could be produced much faster and at a fraction of the cost.
Fast forward a few hundred years and the latest paperbacks could be picked up for next to nothing in your local bookshop. Fast forward again, and you don’t even need to leave your home to get your hands on your favorite new thriller; Amazon will deliver it straight to your door. And, of course, there’s more. Isn’t it a pain, all those books taking up valuable storage space in your home? No matter; now you can pack a thousand books into an object not much bigger than a postcard.
Now, let’s look at the government sector. Has government achieved the same level of innovation as the publishing industry? Has it evolved alongside the needs and desires of its “customers”?
Though the government sector has evolved, it hasn’t done so at the same pace, or on the same scale, as the private sector. And for this, the sector and its customers — the citizens — are missing out.
In the Netherlands, all 12 municipalities are under pressure from national mandates to achieve a greater level of digital innovation by 2020. This essentially means governments aren’t providing the level of service that is wanted and expected from them. The implications of this can be wide-spread, but you can be sure the prognosis isn’t good.
The world is changing and so too are people’s expectations. We’re down to the last few generations that weren’t born with a mobile phone in their hands. Soon, there’ll be no-one left who knows how to send a letter! Citizens become more tech-savvy, more dependent upon technology, with every passing day. You don’t want to risk putting off digital transformation until the point of no return. The sooner you start to think about it, the easier the transition will be.
So, what are some of the challenges faced by the government sector? What prevents government from achieving the level of innovation we see in the private sector?
When we work with clients from the government sector, it soon becomes apparent that many of the challenges they face share a common thread. Many of the barriers to innovation in government are based around a reluctance — with or without good reason — to change.
It’s true: there are problems in the government sector that crossover to enterprise. However, when we work with governmental clients, it soon becomes clear that we’re dealing with challenges somewhat unique to the sector. We’re certainly not saying the people in government organizations today are to blame. Many of these challenges have taken root over generations: Decades of budget cuts, strict regulations, societal and cultural changes, and play-it-safe attitudes. This ‘tradition’ has given us governments that are often fraught with red-tape, legacy infrastructure, and a general fear of rocking the boat.
Take, for example, the City of Zaanstad. Like so many other governments, the City of Zaanstad was getting by with an out-dated legacy system. Tom Uleman, Senior Information Manager, recognized this. Tom knew that governments don’t build their own software; instead, they generally settle for an off-the-shelf SaaS package. At best, this fulfills 70-80% of the government’s needs. At worst, it increases risk and drains resources.
Tom said: “We had a vision on how youth services should be handled in the region, but no available software could support this vision.”
Not only was the City of Zaanstad limited in what could be achieved with the legacy system, it was also over-spending. The legacy system required 10 external back-end developers just to operate and maintain it.
That being said, it takes a heck of a lot of courage to shake things up in the government sector. And we can totally see why governments would be wary. In 2014, for example, the Immigration and Naturalization Service decided to undertake a full digital transformation. For this decision alone, they should get a round of applause. Digital transformation would speed up their processes, make them more efficient, save them significant amounts of money, and generally give them a reputation as leaders in the sector.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. The organization budgeted €1.2m for the project, which was set to be finalized by summer 2015. Fast forward to 2019, however, and the project is yet to be completed. Oh, and the cost has sky-rocketed to €29m!
The Betty Blocks headquarters is located in Alkmaar, NL. Around a 35-minute train ride from Amsterdam, this traditional Dutch town draws visitors for its famous cheese markets. But recently, Alkmaar has been attracting a different demographic. In 2018, Alkmaar took a decisive stand to establish itself as the newest Dutch IT hotspot.
Sven Visser, Chairman of IT=Alkmaar, says: “From virtual reality, hosting, progressive web apps, to a no-code application development platform [Betty Blocks]. Alkmaar is represented worldwide and through this collaboration, we can show it even better.”
It’s certainly exciting for the home of Betty Blocks to be buzzing with innovation. It proves that there’s plenty of forward-thinking organizations out there, each pushing forward with their own innovative technologies and strategies.
And of these innovative new technologies and strategies, we believe there are several in particular that can really drive success in the government sector.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a technological game-changer. Most of us now either own or know someone who owns, a smart fridge, TV, watch, or thermostat. Smart devices are growing in popularity every day. But the capabilities of the IoT extend far beyond making the lives of the average consumer easier and more enjoyable. The real-time data afforded by the IoT is enabling organizations to streamline their processes, increase revenue, and boost productivity. And, what about government use-cases?
The perfect example is the Smart City. In a Smart City, the government uses data from various devices and sensors, to increase operational efficiency and, ultimately, improve the quality of life for its citizens. This can take the form of improving the response rate of emergency vehicles, or dimming street lights when there’s no-one around, to save on electricity costs.
In addition to the IoT, technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Blockchain, are creating vast new possibilities for the government sector. AI, in particular, has already proven its worth in the government sector: The US Citizen and Immigration Services uses a chatbot named “Emma” to answer more than a million immigration queries per month. The City of Atlanta uses Firebird, a framework for helping prioritize buildings for inspection according to fire risk.
We acknowledge that we may be a little biased when it comes to no-code and low-code platforms. But we truly see this technology as one of the strongest drivers of innovation across both the private and public sectors. And we’re not alone: Research firm Forrester predicts that the market for no-code application development platforms will grow from $3.8 billion in 2017 to $21.2 billion in 2022.
But, what are no-code and low-code development methods, and what’s the difference?
The purpose behind no-code and low-code application development is the same: to allow those without expert programming skills to develop applications. There are two major reasons that this is becoming increasingly necessary:
So, we have a situation in which organizations know they need to innovate digitally. But they are without the tools to do so. This is where no-code and low-code application development comes in.
Both no-code and low-code platforms enable the developer to drag-and-drop pre-coded “blocks” to build applications. The clue to the difference between the two methods is in the name: With Low-code, developers still need an intermediate level of programming skills, as some coding is required.
No-code takes this idea further: Applications can be built by tech-savvy individuals without any prior coding knowledge.
Of course, we understand the government sector has rigorous security requirements — and rightly so. The beauty of no-code application development is that it actually strengthens information security. With IT providing a secure environment in which no-code application development can take place, the risk of shadow IT is minimized — if not eradicated.
We’ve talked about how no-code and low-code platforms allow tech-savvy individuals to develop applications. For Citizen Development, the focus is mainly on no-code platforms. Why? The clue is in the word ‘Citizen’.
At its core, Citizen Development is the idea of giving business employees outside the IT department the ability to create applications. The whole idea hinges on the fact that extensive programming knowledge and skills are not needed. The gatekeeper to innovation is removed. What does this mean for the government sector?
Citizen Developers in the government sector are essentially the same as their counterparts in the private sector. However, you could argue that they are even more necessary in government, because of the unique challenges faced by the sector.
Let’s look at an example: The Zuiderzeeland Regional Water Authority ensure proper wastewater treatment and safety in the Netherlands. It’s a complicated task with a huge amount of responsibility, but someone has to do it. Project manager, Les Postema, was driven to improve processes within the organization. He wasn’t content to settle for average; he wanted Zuiderzeeland to be a leader in its sector.
Imagine for a moment that Les has an idea: a way to take his organization to the next level, to be truly innovative. How does he implement this? He could speak with his IT department, but they’re busy either just “keeping the lights on”, or working through their enormous back-log. He could look into an off-the-shelf SaaS product, but he’d have to convince multiple stakeholders to invest heavily in a complete overhaul of their system — and then he’d likely end up with a product that only fits 70-80% of the organization's needs.
Fortunately, Les didn’t do any of this. Instead, he used Betty Blocks’ no-code platform and embraced his new role as a Citizen Developer. Les created the Innovation Lab: a portal that allows employees to share valuable techniques and insights. It helps ensure the water authority is constantly improving.
Les was able to create an application that fit his organization’s needs exactly. This was only possible because he and his team were able to be directly involved in the development process, instead of handing it over to IT or external developers. Les is currently looking into how the application can be rolled out on a larger scale to further improve processes and drive innovation.
Especially in the government sector, it’s important that the Betty Blocks platform connects with existing legacy systems. It means governments can start small; they don’t have to jump straight into the deep-end by overhauling their entire system in one go. They can build small, relatively simple applications, and progress from there.
Read more about how Betty Blocks’ no-code platform can help drive innovation within your government organization.
At Betty Blocks, we believe our no-code platform can level the playing field between government and enterprise. After all, millions of people depend on their local governments for services that are essential to their daily lives — why should the sector be left behind? The tools for innovation are now at your disposal. Use them to be a game-changer in the government sector!
Many of the challenges faced by the government sector stem from current methods of data management. The population of the Netherlands alone in 2018 was around 17 million people. That’s a mind-boggling amount of data for municipalities to capture, store, and manage effectively. And we’re talking important, highly sensitive data, the management of which is regulated by strict privacy laws.
The only way forward is to work together. More specifically, to embrace a new paradigm regarding digital processes and services. To work together, municipalities need to begin a transition to a system that allows for large-scale integration and interoperability. This will empower municipalities to adjust to the ever-changing needs of society with greater flexibility, whilst investing more resources into innovation.
The answer in the Netherlands is the so-called Common Ground initiative. It was inspired by the software X-Road, which allowed municipalities across Estonia to connect and share data, saving 1400 years of working time every year. A multi-year transition, Common Ground is already being received positively by many municipalities, who understand the true scale of its potential.
Betty Blocks' no-code platform not only enables governments to develop applications much more easily and quickly than via traditional coding, it fully aligns with the purpose behind Common Ground.
All signs point towards Common Ground being successfully adopted and implemented by every municipality in the Netherlands. Betty Blocks is here to facilitate that process and help create a future-proof government sector.
Betty Blocks enables you to build enterprise-grade applications without being restricted by technology. This is especially important to our governmental clients, with whom we've worked to drive innovation within the sector. We’ve found that, when it comes to no-code platforms, the government sector is eager to learn about security, the ability to connect to legacy systems, and whether the platform is recognized by industry analysts. Here’s how our platform addresses these points:
Betty Blocks is named as a Strong Performer in the Forrester Wave: Low-Code Platforms for Business Developer, Q2 2019
Betty Blocks is named as a Visionary in Gatner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms
We talked previously about the kinds of problems the City of Zaanstad was facing as a result of their legacy system. The fact the system required 10 experienced developers to maintain it was taking a financial toll. Tom Uleman, Senior Information Manager, was frustrated by the fact that all 300 municipalities on the system needed to agree before changes could be implemented. Tom knew what he needed from a new application, but he knew the application didn’t exist yet.
Using Betty Blocks' no-code platform, Tom was able to bring his vision to life. Embracing the role of Citizen Developer, Tom and his team were able to develop the first version of the new application in just 10 days. Once the application went live, the results were outstanding:
The City of Zaanstad isn’t the only government organization to have used no-code application development to drive innovation.
With a population of just over 3.6 million people (as of 2015), Zuid-Holland is the most populous province in the Netherlands. Zuid-Holland used Betty Blocks’ no-code platform to increase operational efficiency and shorten time-to-market for digital innovations.
Chris Obdam, CEO of Betty Blocks, explains: “Continuing to develop with the Betty Blocks platform will ensure that Zuid-Holland can expand its digital services, as well as offer broader online access to external parties, including municipalities and residents.
New applications will enable much faster innovation and provide the authority with the ability to adapt to the growing needs of organizations and residents in the province.”