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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Demystifying PaaS: The missing piece to digital transformation

Public-sector IT leaders are familiar with the benefits of infrastructure-as -a -service and software-as-a-service offerings. With IaaS,  agencies have on-demand access to a scalable, reliable cloud environment that gives them more flexibility in running workloads than on-premises solutions. SaaS applications, meanwhile, are helping modernize front- and back-office functionality spanning human resources, budgeting and more.

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But what about platform as  a service? It often doesn’t get the spotlight like IaaS or SaaS, and yet its role and value in advancing technology modernization in the public sector makes it arguably the most important of all.

Put simply, PaaS is the tooling that allows agencies to build, run, connect, manage, secure and discover innovative possibilities among their IT systems, both in the cloud and on-premises. That means that agencies can instantly gain the benefits of cloud computing  -- such as mobile apps, better security and the ability to quickly respond to regulation changes -- without the complexity typically associated with developing an application. In many cases, the tools are even designed for program managers  to implement and use themselves, requiring little to no assistance from the IT department.

In most government agencies, IT systems are a mix of public, private and on-premises cloud environments. PaaS can connect these systems to minimize costs and improve the pace of progress.

Here are some use examples of how public-sector IT managers can take advantage of PaaS:

Automate routine tasks. IT departments are typically responsible for data storage, data management, system configuration, maintaining security and more. By using PaaS to incorporate automation, they can take a more hands-off approach. For example, PaaS includes self-service interfaces that automate data storage, eliminating the need for constant human adjustment. Also, PaaS is automated and controlled by the service provider, which creates a more predictable environment. With new technologies like autonomous data warehouse and autonomous database, in-house database administrators can focus their energies on innovation rather than patching, software updates and other maintenance chores.

Develop superior tools. PaaS allows agencies to rapidly build their own applications without having to develop new code. If a social services agency wants to improve its child welfare services, the IT staff can leverage the existing platform to create a new child welfare application from existing sources through the capabilities of PaaS. Developers can integrate disparate data feeds such as the child’s court history, medical records and social media feeds and then add mobility to the app so caseworkers can remotely access data and upload notes, photos and video. Lastly, developers can employ analytics capabilities for enhanced, on-the-spot decision-making. As a result, the agency has a holistic view of the child‘s social environment and can work to improve outcomes for the family.

PaaS can also be used to streamline internal processes. Finance managers grow frustrated with disconnected budget sheets, expense reports and timesheets at the end of the fiscal year. With PaaS, they can develop tools to approve purchases or budgets as well as implement analytics to track spending habits.

Leverage emerging tech. With a PaaS provider, public-sector organizations can deploy blockchain technology while the vendor maintains the infrastructure behind it. Because of time-stamped recordkeeping, blockchain enables transparency in government spending and prevents fraud by reducing payment errors. It also greatly reduces the cybersecurity risk, since blockchain access is limited to those with verifiable identities and encrypted logins.

PaaS-based machine learning systems can  help IT staff detect security abnormalities early. The system trains and “learns” to detect system breaches and flaws, alerting administrators to issues as soon as they occur. IT staff no longer needs to be alert 24 hours a day and can work on more creative and forward-thinking projects.  

PaaS helps agencies take advantage of the innovation and flexibility of cloud without completely replacing or recoding all legacy applications. As a result, agencies don’t need to build their own platform for development, operations and innovation; the cloud provides a starting point. This lets agencies spend less time trouble-shooting infrastructure issues and devote their resources to delivering on the mission and  improving outcomes for constituents.

About the Author

William Sanders is director of technology strategy and business development for Oracle Public Sector.

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