recommended reading

Low Code, Not Open Source, is Key to Federal IT Agility



December 23, 2016

recent posts

Francois Dunoyer is the U.S. public sector vice president for Appian.

The federal government is striving to increase the agility of the IT systems that underpin mission-attainment and service-delivery. Taking a cue from the private sector, federal agencies are seeking faster time-to-delivery for new capabilities and a rapid response in the face of changing conditions. To that end, U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott recently announced a new government website,, promoting a shared-services approach to open-source software under the new Federal Source Code Policy.

Unfortunately for the feds, open source is not the answer to the agility challenge. The reason why is right there in the name of the site and the policy: code.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

Open source certainly appears attractive. It promises license cost reductions, faster delivery and a greater ability to share solutions. Sounds pretty agile. That’s why the federal government has liked open source for more than 20 years. It appears “free” in a world of cost-containment, and it seems that if you build something for one agency, other agencies can easily reuse it.

As with so many things, however, the devil is in the details. Upfront costs may be lower, but the cost of the specialized coders required to develop in an open-source platform certainly aren’t. Time-to-delivery may be incrementally lower than traditional custom development, but that’s because it can be faster to get started without the commercial licensing time requirements.

Open-source development is still geared toward traditional waterfall development methodologies with long cycles of requirements-gathering and code writing—and every time an application needs to be changed, it’s another long cycle.

That underpins another problem: There is no one size fits all in federal IT. Every agency wants to do things “its way” so every solution goes through some level of redevelopment when being shared across the government. With open source, that redevelopment takes just as long as with any other traditional technology.

Then, there’s the Achilles’ heel of security. There are no fully baked and universal open-source security practices. A solution built in open source likely contains vulnerabilities that may already be known to a large portion of the world. The National Vulnerability Database has reported more than 8,000 new vulnerabilities in open-source software since 2014.

Open source carries with it most of the challenges of commercial coding platforms, plus some unique to the model. So where are the heralded agility and accelerated time-to-capability? The real answer to the federal IT agility dilemma is to vastly reduce—or even eliminate—coding of any type.

The emergence of low-code development platforms will bring the government to a new level of speed, agility and digital transformation. Forrester Research defines this market as “platforms that enable rapid delivery of business applications with a minimum of hand-coding and minimal upfront investment in setup, training and deployment.”

By using declarative tooling that supports visual drag-and-drop composition rather than specialized coding, these platforms support all of the facets of increased agility. They enable business users and IT to collaborate more effectively through a common visual language. They support true agile methodologies of minimum viable products in days or weeks with an equally rapid iteration of solutions through recurring sprints. This is what IT agility is all about.

To really drive change in federal IT, a low-code platform needs to meet some crucial requirements. It needs to fully leverage a cloud environment, while also supporting on-premise and hybrid deployments. It needs to have the most stringent security accreditations, including FedRAMP 2.0, Service Organization Controls 1, 2 and 3, and the Federal Information Security Management Act. The applications built on the platform must operate identically on the web and mobile devices through a single development effort. And it must provide proven enterprise-grade scalability.

The drive for increased federal IT agility is to be commended. It is the underpinning of real 21st-century government. It will ensure faster mission attainment, enhanced service delivery, more fluid agency operations, better sharing and reuse across agencies and ultimately, a lower cost for optimized performance. But it won’t be achieved by more coding—open-sourced or otherwise. It will be achieved by the end of coding.


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.