Federal agencies depend on internal software development teams to build the digital capabilities that enable them to carry out their missions. And a growing number of organizations are investing in application development accordingly.

The military in particular has doubled down on software factories such as the Air Force’s Platform One and Space Force’s Space Camp. The software-factory approach emphasizes agile development methodologies like DevSecOps, plus extensive use of open source code to ensure rapid development and strong security. The goal is to enable organizations to quickly benefit from new software functionality.

The military also increasingly depends on collaboration platforms that are purpose-built for technical and operational teams. More effective than traditional, general-purpose collaboration solutions, a technical collaboration platform equips developers with the real-time communication, tool integration, and playbook-based automation they need.

But many organizations are missing out on the benefits of purpose-built collaboration. A platform that’s flexible, secure, and workflow-centric can enable all stakeholders to work together faster and more effectively. It can even drive a culture of collaboration, making your teams more engaged and productive.

Meeting challenges of technical collaboration

General-purpose collaboration solutions have their place, but they’re not designed for technical teams. They result in a “noisy” collaboration environment – think cafeteria more than computer lab. That can actually impede collaboration.

A recent survey of more than 300 developers and technical team leads on how they work together. Participants said that they experience too many distractions from non-developers on their collaboration tools (37% of respondents) and that these tools don’t fit their workflows well (25%).

Those weren’t their only issues. Their biggest productivity blockers were poor communication (29%) and lack of alignment around goals (22%). Their toughest challenges were fragmented information (46%) and lack of integrations with tools (45%).

A technical collaboration platform can help by providing capabilities purpose-built for developers. These include, for example, the ability to render text in Markdown or LaTex markup languages, and to share and highlight code snippets.

But an effective platform also supports collaboration among other stakeholders in the development process, such as operations staff, site reliability engineers (SREs), security analysts, project managers, and line-of-business owners. It does this by offering three key features:

1. Flexibility. An effective collaboration platform will conform to your agency’s unique requirements. That might involve support for BYOD mobile devices, or it might include the ability to operate on a highly secure air-gapped network.

In particular, the platform should be built on open source software. Why? Because an open source solution enables you to smoothly integrate with developer technology tools, from Figma to Jira to GitLab. You can unify those tools under a single pane of glass in your collaboration environment.

With a proprietary platform, you’re locked into the vendor’s Application Programming Interface (APIs). Open source frees you up to view the underlying code, vet it for security, and incorporate it into your technology stack and team culture.

2. Security. Federal organizations must meet strict standards for cybersecurity and data privacy. Your collaboration platform needs to meet those requirements and ensure regulatory compliance.

General-purpose collaboration solutions run in the public cloud or in the SaaS vendor’s environment. A technical collaboration platform can be deployed in your on-prem datacenter, in your private cloud, and even in an air-gapped environment. That way, you retain full control of both access and data.

Digital conversations can take place securely on users’ mobile devices, but data remains centralized in the platform. Robust data retention enables you to access conversation histories, conduct retrospectives, perform audits, and comply with federal regulations.

3. Workflow centricity. Finally, your collaboration platform should support technical teams with real-time communication and automations. Channel-based messaging should be both synchronous and asynchronous, while persistent audio and screen sharing should enable team members to jump in and out of real-time conversations as needed.

Your platform should include built-in playbooks, leveraging automation to improve collaboration. These digitized, customizable checklists can route workflows through predefined steps to complete project tasks. For instance, if a code issue emerges, a single click on a playbook can escalate the issue to the right team members and walk through the process steps to resolution.

Creating a collaborative culture

Finally, an effective platform extends beyond tools and projects to drive a culture of collaboration in your agency. A culture of collaboration enables you to optimize returns on your investment in application development.

You know you’ve achieved a collaborative culture when teamwork becomes the default mode of operation. Team members become more engaged and productive, improving your ability to attract and retain technical talent. Ultimately, teams hit their project targets, and the software they create helps your organization execute on its mission.

Barry Duplantis is Vice President and General Manager of North America Public Sector for Mattermost, an open-source, self-hostable online chat service with file sharing, search and integrations.

Have an opinion?

This article is an Op-Ed and the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please email C4ISRNET and Federal Times Senior Managing Editor Cary O’Reilly.

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