Innovation depends on convergence and agile development

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Innovation depends on convergence and agile development

Government agencies know they can significantly improve service deliver to citizens by leveraging the latest technology solutions and practices. And while the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” might lead to dramatic innovations, it is a tough proposition for agencies managing services that impact millions of citizens across the country.

To reap the benefits of new technology, agencies must embrace convergence of hardware and software, whether via the cloud or on-premises stacks. Converged infrastructure enables greater cooperation between development and operations teams in an agile development environment, which helps deliver better services to citizens faster.

The challenges to embracing technology advances

Government IT processes are built with compliance and regulation at the core, which makes change difficult.  Further, with government’s multiple levels of privacy and security on information, data access rules can be very challenging and cumbersome.

At the same time, agencies are under intense pressure (both budget- and directive-driven) to modernize and move to the cloud. While there is a clear path forward, the government still spends around $60 billion a year on maintenance and operations of existing assets, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report.  Some of those assets include 8-inch floppy disks that the Department of Defense uses to store nuclear forces data and the Department of Veterans Affairs personnel and accounting applications written in COBOL, a programming language designed in 1959.

Technology convergence

Government agencies must embrace converged infrastructure to leverage advances in technology. It offers tight integration of compute resources, virtual machines, operating systems, database, applications, cloud computing, security, networking, servers, analytics and storage in a single package.

A converged infrastructure stack lets government agencies leverage existing technology investments --  which can consume up to 75 percent of government’s IT budget  --  while advancing cloud migration. When a converged infrastructure stack is based on the same on-premise technologies as those used in the cloud, agencies have the agility and flexibility to migrate applications to the cloud at their pace. This helps them respond to changing demands, modernize and consolidate data center infrastructure and meet demanding service-level agreements.

Embracing DevOps and agile development practices

One of the main advantages of converged infrastructure is its ability to support application development and testing either on premise or in the cloud. That flexibility helps agencies perform core development and production tasks in a broad range of environments, and it supports compliance monitoring of financial, privacy and security regulations.

Like private industry, government agencies are increasingly embracing agile development and DevOps practices. While there are some major reported successes --  such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services using an agile development approach to launch an electronic filing system for green card applications -- organizational culture remains a major stumbling block.

DevOps at its core is about close alignment between development and operations teams to increase the quality of applications and speed delivery. When done right, DevOps can help organizations deploy up to 200 times more frequently and spend up to 50 percent less time remediating security issues, according to a 2016 State of DevOps Report. But breaking down silos of developers and ops groups is tough, particularly in a highly regulated and bureaucratic environment.

The path to innovation

Although it is clear that cloud is the future for government services, the process will take some time -- particularly as agencies migrate applications built more than a generation ago.

Given the critical and long-term nature of many public services, agencies should embrace a converged approach that integrates all layers of technology, from software to hardware and from on-premises to the cloud. In particular, developing and testing applications on-premises or in the cloud can help agencies leverage the best of today and tomorrow while maintaining existing investments.

About the Author

David Rubal is group vice president of Oracle's North America Public Sector Cloud and Infrastructure Solutions Sales Engineering organization.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Oct 14, 2016 Eric Naiburg Pennsylvania

Hi David, Well written article. The one thing I would add is that Agile isn't about failing fast, it is about delivering value in software more quickly so that you can learn, adapt and adjust. Ken Schwaber the co-creator of Scrum and signer of the Agile Manifesto often discusses how the mistake people take away from Agile and Scrum is it is about delivering more quickly. Although that is a benefit potentially, it is really about delivering more Value. Delivering the right things to stakeholders, getting stakeholder review more often and quickly so that you aren't waiting months or years before getting that feedback. I remember working with a number of teams many years ago in the IRS where they would go 18+ months before delivering anything to the stakeholders for review. By the time they delivered, people had changed, requirements had changed and technologies had changed sending them pretty much back to the drawing board. Agile and Scrum are about delivering incremental pieces that can be reviewed, altered and understood so that you aren't waiting forever, but it isn't about failing fast, it is about understanding so that you don't wait until you have no choice to change.

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