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A product and platform approach to citizen-centric service delivery

For government today, the secret to success is citizen-first thinking. Users expect the same quality of digital services from government as they do from private businesses like retailers and financial organizations. This means government agencies must consistently deliver anytime, anywhere access and streamlined user experiences.

The drive toward citizen-centric government challenges CIOs and IT teams to look beyond traditional project management approaches for delivering services. This necessary change is less about what any specific technology enables and more about a culture shift away from the old models of waterfall development and project management to product and platform thinking.

What is a product and platform approach?

In this model, platform capabilities provide product flexibility and do not require every service within the platform to be built from scratch. Microservices within the platform tend to be plug-and-play. They may be developed in a number of ways: jointly by different teams or agencies within government or by private providers in conjunction with government, or they may be existing services borrowed from other products.

Unlike a project management approach in which a dedicated IT team may sink a year or more into creating a product and fully building out all its parts by an established launch deadline, a product and platform approach has no specific end date. Initial deployments can proceed when some components of the product are more robust than others. Investments in platforms occur continuously over time. New services are added, and existing services are enhanced incrementally as they become available.

Benefits of product and platform thinking

The product and platform approach reduces the need for governments to develop technology-based services on their own. While there may always be a need for some proprietary services, the product and platform mindset allows citizen-centric product development to occur outside of government, which delivers a high level of interoperability and speed to deploying new services.

Other benefits include:

  • Minimizing the cost required to develop products and services from scratch.

  • Providing an underlying platform infrastructure that allows a state or municipal government to rapidly scale service delivery up or down according to its own footprint and the needs of its constituent base.

  • Accelerating access to innovative citizen-centric services with capabilities the government might not have considered or had the resources to build on its own.

  • Responding to customer demand for “easy button” experiences.

  • Reducing technical debt due to the ongoing development process that is fundamental to the product and platform approach.

  • Enabling agencies to collaborate and provide citizen-centric solutions that make it easy to interact with government.

A recent example of the product and platform approach is Gov2Go, a platform that can provide a single access point for all of a citizen’s government interactions.

The CIO as strategist

No IT group will be able to keep up with the speed of government business if it follows the old models of waterfall development, physical infrastructure and project-based work. It cannot be responsive or fast enough to support the increasing digital transformation of government without a shift to a product and platform mentality.

Moving to a product and platform mentality requires government IT leaders to serve as strategists. The CIO’s role in this instance is to set direction, ensure the use of structured application programming interfaces and common technologies so products can be used across agencies and outcomes managed to ensure government’s business goals are met.

A product and platform approach also requires changes in product approval processes and funding mechanisms so that incremental funding is released to allow a development team to add features as fast as it can.

Agencies that have begun following the product and platform path are seeing increased customer satisfaction. They have also experienced a higher rate of engagement with digital government services. This can translate to greater compliance with government requirements for services such as registrations and tax payments.

Government can, and should, be as easy to use as Netflix, Amazon and other customer-centric services citizens have become accustomed to. By adopting a product and platform mentality, government can achieve the same levels of customer-facing capabilities, user friendliness and speed.

About the Author

Marty Williams is vice president of technology at NIC Inc.

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