NOAA missions reap the benefits of low-code development as product owners

While the technology isn't new, agencies' use of it is just beginning to take off.
(Getty Images)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants mission personnel to embrace the role of product owner using low-code development projects for faster feedback and better resulting applications.

Low-code platforms map the software development process on an interface that allows developers to write apps with a flow chart — using drag-and-drop components and model-driven logic — rather than coding.

Roy Varghese, chief information officer for NOAA Fisheries, opted to develop a custom solution in lieu of a low-code tool in 2011. Two years into the project, no one was happy, and after several more years, NOAA moved to a low-code tool that was online within 90 days, Varghese said at an ATARC event Thursday.

NOAA uses the low-code automation platform Appian for multiple services today. The agency collects and analyzes vast amounts of data on natural systems, with the National Marine Fisheries Service responsible for U.S. seafood competitiveness affecting everything down to the price of sushi, Varghese said.


Because the programs Fisheries interacts with have different mission needs, they make the ideal product owners, he said.

“People are embracing that as the way to go to get the best results, so our program areas are very passionate about their program,” Varghese told FedScoop after his panel. “What these platforms enable them to do is really see the possibilities of how their programs can be supported faster, and they have a say in it.”

Low-code platforms also lessen the blow when product owners lose developers familiar with the app, said Ankur Saini, program manager at the General Services Administration.

Robotic process automation was pioneered by the chief financial officer’s shop at GSA, but the product needs an owner to be made available organization-wide, he added.

Most GSA development isn’t done in house, but low-code platforms allow the agency to build with whatever developers show up — rather than retrain an in-house team. Saini said he prefers not to seek out developers based exclusively on their certifications now that a person can take a two-day course and walk out a scrum master.


“They wouldn’t know agile if there was a waterfall in front of them,” he said.

But low-code platforms aren’t the right tool in every instance because they cater to all customers and not specific mission needs, Saini said.

For instance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will still bring on Java developers to build customizations on low code-developed products, said David Rubens, project delivery manager at the agency.

“It’s a constant battle and reevaluation of what’s available,” Rubens said.

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