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Government Software Modernization: Addressing the Challenges

Rajiv Desai | January 5, 2023

4 Minute Read

picture of government employees working at a laptop computer

Most of the government agencies we speak with would love to work with more modern software systems. Whether they’re frustrated with a difficult-to-use process or application they use today, or they’re attracted by new capabilities, most public sector organizations love the idea of upgrading to the latest technology. 

The realities of upgrading are a different story, though.

There are a lot of reasons governments have traditionally been slower to adopt new technologies. Some of these challenges are too systemic for one agency to solve, but some of the latest government software solutions remove many of the traditional barriers to upgrading.

In other words, what may have been an obstacle five or ten years ago isn’t necessarily an obstacle today. Indeed, at 3Di we’ve spent the last 20 years working to make this all easier for our government clients.

Let’s go over some of the most common challenges we’ve seen when modernizing government software systems, and how newer platforms like 3Di Engage are helping.

Limited resources for new software

This is of course the biggest challenge for most governments: limited time, money, or people available to make a software change. This problem is worse in smaller communities, who have more limited resources in the first place.

However, many common assumptions about software are outdated. High cost for software development has traditionally been a major barrier to upgrade, where people think “this is only for the big guys, not us.”

The scale of cloud software platforms for the government has thankfully lowered costs, so the financial barriers aren’t what they once were: custom government software solutions are affordable even for smaller agencies. Newer pricing models from some vendors that don’t charge per user are also making it easier to predict and plan for software expenses.

Then, there’s time. A small town may get 50 permit requests a year. An automated process could be great for them, but is it worth the money and time for training to reach that point?

As software gets more intuitive though, it’s no longer an arduous task to train employees to use something new. We prioritize usability at 3Di for this reason and include ample ongoing support to make the switch easy.

Once you have an updated software system in place, the time savings that result from it can eliminate a ton of extra work, freeing up time for the entire department.


Internal resistance to leaving familiar systems

Once you’re comfortable with an old system, it’s hard to want to change — especially when you’re not fully convinced the benefits are worth learning something new. And what’s the appeal of a new software solution if it just means you’ll be working with multiple systems now?

Plus, what if a new system (such as a citizen engagement platform) requires you to upgrade your other software, like accounting? What many people don’t realize, however, is that modern government software solutions can integrate with most existing software systems.

With 3Di Engage for example, you can integrate with just about anything. If there’s not an existing integration set up, we can build a custom one. And since 3Di Engage is heavily customized for every customer, you can use it for the specific use case you want to add or upgrade and leave existing systems in place for everything else.

Long procurement process

For the sake of keeping things fair and giving everyone the option to bid for a deal, procurement takes a notoriously long time in the public sector. Larger cities are at even more of a disadvantage here, due to factors like the number of vendors, the complexity of their systems, and the difficulty of automating processes in these larger systems.

Solutions have been developed, such as master service agreements, to pre-qualify vendors, and marketplaces to post requests, which makes it easier to pick vendors or service providers.

Digital procurement processes are also helping, making for faster evaluations, and minimizing much of the tedious work.

Additionally, once software is chosen, some are faster to implement than others. When using 3Di Engage, for instance, custom software implementation can be finished in a matter of weeks (or a few months for more complex projects), rather than the 2-3 years it can take with legacy technology.

Priorities clashing with politics

Unfortunately, no organization is fully free from politics — not the typical left vs. right national politics we hear about every day, but the simple competition for resources within and between agencies. Every decision maker has countless stakeholders to consider, and people vying to influence their investments.

While issues like these are complicated and beyond the scope of our expertise, there’s some consolation: since government software is now less costly and easier to implement quickly, it’s gradually becoming easier to get support for an upgrade. In other words, even if you get less funding or support than you hoped for, a modern software solution may still be within reach.

Difficulty making informed tech decisions

Technology is advancing quickly, so it’s increasingly difficult for the average non-technical person to make major software decisions. That’s why more decision-making goes through the IT department or technology consultants.

You’re generally making a wise choice by going through a technology consultant for a decision like this, and we advise our clients as much.

However, there are two caveats here. The first is that this can be an additional cost that is sometimes hard to justify. Secondly, consulting companies are not immune to the influences of big market players, so you don’t always know what incentives they have to recommend a particular piece of technology.

To counter this, you can do some preliminary research first. Benchmark with your peers: what are other government agencies doing? This is not to copy what they’re doing, but to see what they’re using and ask how it’s worked for them. What issues have they encountered? Would they recommend their solution?

Some larger organizations might use a well-established private sector solution like Salesforce, which in many cases is a powerful tool. However, the lack of public sector specialization with these solutions can create inefficiencies and may not meet your needs.

That’s why it’s important to rely on your peers for insight. If you’re not the one who gets to decide on software, you can at least come to your boss with data to show what choice will get the best results. And ultimately, you’re going to have a lower risk for biased recommendations when going through your peers.

The case for making the change

As you’ve read, if your organization falls into the camp of wanting to modernize your software systems but feel it’s out of reach, it may be time to re-evaluate. From costs to turnaround time to ease of learning a new system, software vendors like us are working tirelessly to make things easier for you.

At the end of the day, we at 3Di understand that government software systems are all just a means to an end. Our goal is to empower you to make the greatest impact on the communities you serve, and we build our software to do just that.