According to Mendix, a Siemens business and global leader in modern enterprise application development, the convergence of post-pandemic trends and technological advancements are fundamentally reshaping the distribution, provision, and access to e-government and digital-first services for the public sector. Although the emergence of data-driven, tech-enabled "Smart Cities" dates back to 1974, pandemic-related mitigation measures required the public sector to reinvent secure, accessible digital channels for constituents and workforce administrators.
Recent findings by the U.S.-based National Association of State CIOs describe a seismic shift in the pace of digitalization by state and local agencies that felt like "10 years' worth of deployments in 8 months." However, the successful expansion of e-government services has raised expectations for government agility and responsiveness by administrators, constituents, policy makers, and regulators alike.
Research shows accelerating numbers of use cases — generated by increased demand for next-generation cloud-based computing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, 5G connectivity, and hyperautomation — for federal, state, and local agencies to digitalize their services and planning processes. Yet analysts also cite the public sector's long-established oversight, budgeting, and procurement requirements as a potential bottleneck to rapid transformation.
E-government for future needs and rising expectations
To navigate this perfect storm, a low-code software development platform with a robust ecosystem has proven invaluable for public sector agencies tasked with reinventing digital government for a new era.
During the pandemic, Mendix public sector customers developed scalable, innovative digital solutions embraced by a range of policy makers and agencies. Today, there is no going back. Public agencies are expected to make decisions at speed and deliver value in real time. Governments can no longer operate in a reactive mode. In our complex, volatile era, the public sector must leverage technology to collaborate across multiple jurisdictions and successfully engage with constituents."
Mark Smitham, head of public sector EMEA at Mendix
According to Gartner, 60% of worldwide public agencies expect to triple their citizen-facing digital services by 2023. On the national level, governments are aiding the call to modernize critical legacy applications to be more responsive in this changing landscape. In the U.S. for example, a bipartisan proposal moving through congress would prioritize replacing federal legacy IT systems with modern infrastructure.
Low-code software development platforms are uniquely positioned to help the public sector maximize allocated resources while rapidly iterating and deploying innovative solutions. Here are five ways that best-in-class software development platforms will drive digital success for public sector needs.
Composable solutions, tailored for future needs
Research shows that government employees have the highest usage of shadow IT, turning to these workarounds when red tape and other barriers halt procurement of the technology they need to get the job done. Such ad-hoc solutions expose the organization to increased risk of cyber hacking. Plus, commercial off-the-shelf systems from single-solution vendors can prove costly later, when unexpected crises or changing conditions require customization for new use cases. A robust software development platform, on the other hand, is specifically designed for iterative collaboration. Open architecture with built-in governance and connectivity control can stabilize an agency's provision of digital services regardless of procurement cycle timing or budget allocation.
Gartner analysts recently cited the use of composable software apps (characterized as modular, adaptable, and reusable digital solutions) as the most important factor for government enterprises tasked with meeting changing regulatory, legislative, and public expectations.
Modernizing legacy systems for new needs
Widespread support for public sector digitalization is driving the accelerated pace of legacy modernization. Local and regional governments are charting the impact of IoT and connected devices, AI, and 5G connectivity to achieve operational efficiencies across a range of services, including traffic and transportation flows, energy use and lighting, health monitoring of waste, water, and air quality, public works and safety, emergency services, and resource planning and allocation.
Technology has always been an essential ingredient for a range of local services. The next phase, however, will come from hyperconnected public infrastructure. The ultra low latency of long-promised 5G connectivity linking massive, multiple connections of IoT sensors will be the linchpin that makes real-time decision-making at scale a reality for the public sector.
"This will be a game-changer, enabling the promise of smart cities to become a wide-spread reality," Smitham said. He cautions, however, that ease of data integration across the digital ecosystem will determine progress or delay. "An adaptable, flexible low-code platform that extends the technology stack in a malleable way will allow service providers to stay current with changing technologies, partners, and services," said Smitham. "Mendix's low-code platform can be the glue enabling communication and integration across these different protocols."
Security by design, embedded from the start
In today's high-threat environment, enhanced cybersecurity, data protection, and trustful interactions across e-government's digital ecosystem is top of mind for public sector managers. Even minor government transactions can potentially lead to financial and reputational exposure and loss if not adequately protected.
"What used to be an afterthought must be embedded into systems, infrastructure, and implementation standards," said Smitham. Citing the Charter of Trust and the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, an international framework signed by 1,200 governments, NGOs, and academic institutions, he added, "Digital security must be addressed from the very beginning. It's not something that can be added later, piecemeal."
The public sector must vet potential software development platforms for governance, control, and monitoring of activity across the application landscape. They should seek out platform providers with the highest level of third-party certifications and accreditations, such as ISO, the benchmark of global compliance for information security.
Another layer of protection is found in strategic partnerships. Microsoft operates the global, nonpartisan Defending Democracy program to protect election infrastructure, including emails and networks of voters, political parties, and staff. CloudFlare specializes in endpoint security software as a service, protecting, for example, hospital networks and infrastructure. Cloud-based hyperscalers, including Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Google, Huawei, and Microsoft, operate at the highest level of security and oversight, employing large contingents of software engineering talent to operate safe and secure cloud platforms.
A key to the city that safely unlocks silos
The next challenge facing e-government? Providing an accurate, digital "proof of identity" that will unlock the full potential of e-government services, expanding access while reducing costs. There are, however, two interrelated challenges: First, the public must trust how agencies collect, store, safeguard, and control access to sensitive information, such as tax and health records, welfare payments, certifications, licensing, and more. At the same time, government services must find a way to share and validate ID credentials across agency silos, creating what researchers term "digital identity ecosystems."
Three EU countries, Belgium, Netherlands, and Estonia, have pioneered a single identity registration service that validates digital services for constituents regardless of geographic location. But for most countries, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom, hybrid systems of paper-based identification — passports, drivers licenses, social security cards, insurance cards, and biometric scans of fingerprints — are standard practice.
According to Smitham, low-code platforms have a unique advantage in building and managing digital identity ecosystems. "Connecting securely to other systems and data sets easily and readily is the fundamental driver for adopting an enterprise software development platform," he said. "It doesn't matter whether the customer is a bank, a store, or a government agency." Platforms with certified governance and control capabilities will integrate identity authentication via secure, low-code built connectors. Smitham added, "This is the future of digital public services."
Don't reinvent the wheel when it's possible to share
Around the world, municipal agencies provide constituents with similar services, be it tax collection, waste management, traffic and parking enforcement, emergency services, birth or marriage registration. Unlike private enterprises seeking competitive advantage, public sector organizations are free to collaborate and share digital solutions, thereby driving innovation and speeding time to value.
Furthermore, public sector activity must be transparent, responding to feedback from multiple stakeholders. When public trust evaporates, solutions can prove controversial, as evidenced by the recent IRS proposal to use facial recognition scans for U.S. taxpayers.
"Cities have begun sharing best practices on regulating public sector uses of AI," says Smitham. "Less well-known are the multitude of digital services that have been successfully delivered and adopted. Public agencies become more agile and responsive when they collaborate and share their approaches for modernizing their practices and prioritizing technology adoption."
Such collaboration also extends the public sector's digital skill set and reduces the burden on under-resourced IT departments. Smitham cited the EU's powerful "Research Online Platform" application that tracks side effects of Covid-19 vaccines. The digital tool was built on the Mendix platform in collaboration with the European Medicines Agency and the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, and is now used in 45 countries. "The solution enables researchers to collect data internationally on a secure, scalable cloud platform with anonymized user profiles, balancing technological innovation with public needs for privacy and security," he said.
Digital solutions for the benefit of all
The new era of expanded e-government services has the potential to advance sustainability, civic engagement, and promote economic prosperity. "Low-code software development and platform integration will speed the public sector towards this goal, removing the pain points caused by monolithic processes, legacy systems, and proprietary architecture," said Johan den Haan, chief technology officer at Mendix. "Digital solutions that empower both end users and local governments while leveraging the flexibility of today's technology, tools, and services will greatly expand the public commons for every 21st century citizen."
In a digital-first world, customers want their every need anticipated, employees want better tools to do their jobs, and enterprises know that sweeping digital transformation is the key to survival and success. Mendix, a Siemens business, is quickly becoming the engine of the enterprise digital landscape. Its industry-leading low-code platform and comprehensive ecosystem integrates the most advanced technology to support solutions that boost engagement, streamline operations, and relieve IT logjams. Built on the pillars of abstraction, automation, cloud, and collaboration, Mendix dramatically increases developer productivity and empowers a legion of not-so-technical, 'citizen' developers to create apps guided by their particular domain expertise, facilitated by Mendix's engineered-in collaborative capabilities and intuitive visual interface. Recognized as a leader and visionary by leading industry analysts, the platform is cloud-native, open, extensible, agile, and proven. From artificial intelligence and augmented reality to intelligent automation and native mobile, Mendix is the backbone of digital-first enterprises. The Mendix enterprise low-code platform has been adopted by more than 4,000 leading companies in 46 countries.