A custom software development project is typically a challenging experience in and of itself. When it is a software project for the government, a unique set of challenges and costs can sometimes arise to add another layer to the overall development process.
Technology has always been a major concern for the government and is only continuing to grow in importance as tech advances, especially when it comes to free and open-source software. Studies have found that only 60% of federal IT projects were actually successful and federal leaders consider 54.2% of IT investments to be medium to high risk before they even start. This does not only apply to the government of the United States either: many governments around the world have run into hurdles when it comes to IT projects.
Unique Challenges of Government Custom Software Development
Why exactly are information technology projects for governments so prone to problems (and failure) and how can they be better managed, handled, and executed to help improve success rates? Custom software development companies, such as BairesDev, must know the scope of these projects before taking them on in order to better the process.
- Project Size – The massive size of the U.S. Government means that projects associated with it are inherently enormous. From the designing of subway systems to airports and other federal tasks, these giant projects can cost tens of millions of dollars and require software that is exponentially larger than the average software product. The challenges associated with building and managing these projects increase in tandem with their size – as do their failure rates.
- Choice Justification – It can take several weeks or months to have the use of common software libraries approved by a government entity. Software developers often find themselves needing to write lengthy papers justifying their choices or must provide rather extensive documentation for even the simplest of coding situations, such as code reuse.
This not only causes costly delays in project timelines but can also discourage developers from using helpful, proven methods to expedite projects. The process of justification does ensure the protection of all parties in the event of failure, but it is quite a hurdle to overcome.
- Budgeting – When dealing with the government, every project budget requires requesting upfront and sometimes for multiple years at once. Estimating the software development process is rather impossible to scale up to such a long timeframe. This can cause developers to set themselves up for inaccurate budgets before they even start coding and may lead to problems down the road.
- Responsible Parties – Typically, the government operates through a specified representative put in charge of the contract and financial decisions for a project: the Contracting Officer Representative (COR). In some cases, they aren’t an actual user of the software and may not be the only party responsible for signing off on each decision. These “non-users” can sign off on functions that may look nice during a demonstration but are not actually required by the real users, which may lead to extra costs and extended timeframes.
- Extra Regulations – It is not uncommon for developers to utilize third-party services to help build applications and software at a much faster rate. They are typically cost-effective solutions for common functionalities required during the development process. Projects run by the government frequently prevent the use of these third-party companies as they do not completely align with somewhat arbitrary data regulations and information assurance processes for governments.
- Legacy Systems – Many government IT systems were actually developed years ago and may not have been fully updated since their implementation. Continual maintenance of these systems gets more expensive and time-consuming as the years continue to pass by. Reports found that a whopping 70% of the government’s IT budget is actually spent on maintaining their legacy systems. Although implementing new technology is more efficient and less expensive in the long run, it is sometimes not a possibility simply because of these legacy systems.
What’s the Solution?
As a custom software development company, what is the solution to working on a government software project? It’s best to try and avoid these common issues before starting.
- A project must start on the right foot if it wants to end successfully. Before a project begins, it is important that every party involved, both decision-makers and end-users within the government as well, understand exactly what the final product should look like and entail once completed. This can help eliminate problems throughout the course of the project.
- It is important to take some time throughout the Software Development Life Cycle to analyze the project and its progress, not just in the testing phase. By adding extra analysis phases, problems are addressed ahead of time so that they receive any necessary approvals, budget extensions, or extra time from the government.
- Project managers should take extra care to establish regular check-ins with both the COR representing the project as well as their own teams to keep everyone on track and informed of the project status at all times.
Government software projects can be incredibly exciting and rewarding for custom software developers, but it is of the utmost importance that they are managed accordingly and proactively to prevent issues while improving overall success rates.