To avoid confusion, agencies may wish to avoid saying that they’re seeking a platform (either a specific platform or using the term generally) and start their search for better technology by articulating what the system should do and who it will serve.
In our experience, this exercise reveals a set of common requirements that are driving HHS agencies towards a platform-first approach:
Easy configuration and customization to deliver value quickly
HHS agencies have been aware for a long time that having a solution that fits their requirements well will reduce the risks associated with custom-built projects and deliver value more quickly. Platform solutions aim to offer configurable solutions, which reduce the need for custom extensions to be added. However, these configurations still create a custom solution that is not supported by the platform vendor. Generic platform vendors encourage minimal configuration so the client may easily upgrade but the generic platform does not support the unique needs of the HHS enterprise without configuration. HHS platform solutions make it possible for future upgrades of the platform to be seamless even with the customizations.
A supported development framework to control project costs
A custom-built solution built on a generic platform or even one sourced from many different vendors, implies that HHS agencies will have to develop their own system documentation and training materials, provide their own technical support and create their own user communities. HHS platform solutions have these services built in as well as others, such as services for installing new products, installing product updates and performing migrations for major software releases.
Outsourced IT operations for budget certainty
HHS agencies are under pressure to provide better outcomes, yet budgets are shrinking. They’re aware that cloud and emerging cloud technologies offer opportunities for them to optimize both technically and operationally as well as deliver budget transparency and certainty. Platform solutions that are cloud-hosted, or deployed to cloud, allow agencies to outsource the complex management of hardware, software provisioning and operations, and these solutions allow them to focus on creating business value. Portability across clouds can offer an agency multiple choices for cloud services and helps them to avoid lock-in to a specific cloud offering.
Incremental modernization and reduced technical risk
Recently, some agencies have expressed a need for modular solutions. The underlying requirements for modularity include support for incremental modernization, avoiding vendor lock-in, and reducing technical risk. Platform solutions can support these requirements by providing feature components, strong API integration strategies and upgrading management infrastructure. To reduce technical risk, platforms that wrap around existing legacy systems to modernize the user interface before attempting to modernize the backend technology should be avoided.
A roadmap to a future-proof solution
HHS agencies need to know that the solution they buy will meet their requirements on day one and will continue to deliver value as well as respond to changing market needs. A strong future vision and roadmap that factors in both evolving technology and customer requirements are key to delivering constant improvements.
Assessing solution providers against these requirements is a good start. This approach may reveal a superset of potentially suitable vendors, including both generic customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that are attempting to expand horizontally into the HHS domain as well as HHS platform solutions that were built specifically for HHS from the ground up. However, there are several critical differences between platforms that are built specifically for HHS and those that aren’t.