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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Adopting DevOps: What agencies need to know

Terms like agile, digital transformation and DevOps have pervaded government over the last three years. Behind these buzzwords, however, are processes and technologies that are not yet widely understood, but they are creating value and driving change across multiple industries from hospital systems to companies as large as Walmart and GE.

DevOps Demo Day

GCN and Dcode are hosting an Oct. 31 event to showcase new tools and services for DevOps, DevSecOps, GIS, mapping and agile in government.

The Washington, D.C., event is free for federal employees, and all are welcome.  Register here to join us.

Those same processes and technologies can benefit government as well, which is why Dcode, works closely with agencies on how to adopt the latest emerging tech around DevOps and digital transformation.  To take full advantage of these opportunities, it's important for government to consider the questions below.

Why are these practices so important for government right now?

Though it might not be immediately apparent, many of the most successful consumer technologies today were built using updated development practices and principles. The federal government, on the other hand, is better known for large failures in IT -- which is unsurprising given how most technology is delivered in government.

Agile prioritizes working code, customer experience and responsiveness over documentation, process and milestones. This produces a more user-friendly product with much less of a chance at catastrophic failure. And while some might think, “Well, the government isn’t Amazon or Google,” it does deliver information and services at similar scale that directly impact American citizens. That should be enough of an imperative to follow the lead of successful companies.       

Additionally, the government must attract and retain employees with experience in these newer methodologies. Recruiting skilled talent while using antiquated technology stacks will prove difficult if not impossible for most agencies.

Is the government at large ready to adopt agile and DevOps?

In some agencies, teams and programs have already adopted these practices. Places in the Defense Department have been practicing agile since the late 1990s. And while DevOps is somewhat newer in practice across government, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was probably further along the DevOps path under former CIO Mark Schwartz than most Fortune 1000 companies.

The hardest parts of adoption relate to government cultural and a lack of understanding of the toolset needed. In many ways, agile and DevOps ask agencies to turn their risk profile upside-down and trust in an iterative process. That can challenge many different existing agency processes from budgeting to oversight. For DevOps, communication is key. Instead of enterprise IT being a gate for testing or deployment, it must work collaboratively with development teams to support the development cycles.

In terms of an appropriate toolset, legacy project management tools will not produce the results agencies expect to get out of agile software development or DevOps. Development teams will cause headaches for enterprise IT (and vice versa) without tools built for communicating in an agile environment, maintaining compliance without bogging down engineers, testing and deploying in real time or applying security controls throughout the process -- not just at the end of the dev cycle.

Where should an agency start?

First, start small. Is there a webpage that could use a redesign? A smaller internal application that a team has been angling to develop? These are the types of projects that will allow an agency to get the feel of working in a new way without the pressure to be overwhelmingly successful.

Second, know that current process and tools don’t apply. Agile is not simply large requirements development with standups. Agency teams must start with research, listen to potential users, then build a scope of objectives. Once something is sketched out or built, they should go back to the users and take their feedback to either change or improve the product. Project management tools are not accommodating for this type of cyclical work -- don’t expect them to function well. 

Are the right tools and technology available to government?

More often than not, adoption challenges come from a communication barrier between the federal government and the private sector. Federal agencies don’t always understand the possibilities that these technologies can bring to their development efforts or how to successfully get to them.  Private companies, meanwhile, are discouraged by the opaque nature of the federal market.

Bringing the two groups together can help to break down those walls.  It gives both sides an opportunity to have meaningful discussion on appropriately applying emerging technology to existing DevOps processes or to new efforts. Dcode works with companies on the critical pieces of doing business with government -- from procurement and compliance to marketing and public relations -- and that too can help to bridge the gap.  Systems integrators and other longtime government contractors also play an important role. But getting the right tools into the hands of government DevOps teams requires some outreach on all sides.

It's worth that effort.  DevOps and digital transformation are reshaping what's possible in government IT.  By exploring new toolsets and learning from other agencies' successes (and missteps) those interested in modernizing government IT can unlock tremendous value.

About the Author

Meagan Metzger is the founder and CEO of Dcode.

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