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Evolving for Agility: 6 Areas for CIOs to Address (Industry Perspective)

Whether just starting the agile journey or seeking help in advancing it, all CIOs should think through how their organizations are evolving for agility in these six key areas.

In the digital world, challenges and opportunities emerge ever-more rapidly. Public-sector technology infrastructures and supporting business processes are evolving as agencies are driven to better anticipate and adapt to changes quickly and efficiently. For new digital initiatives and IT system modernization efforts, the “old way” of custom-built, mainframe-based systems built over extended linear development cycles is yielding to a much faster-iterating agile development process, often tapping off-the-shelf or open source software options and emerging capabilities in mobility, analytics and cloud computing.

State and local CIOs know that the role of IT is in the midst of a transformation. Historically, governments have viewed their IT function as a cost center with little connection to the “business” of public service delivery. These days, IT is increasingly central to how state and local governments are meeting citizens’ expectations and delivering public value. 

But even as IT has become more of a strategic driver for public service organizations, many IT infrastructures and supporting processes are stuck in a bygone era. And many CIOs are asking: How can we be agile and responsive in a digital world — while operating with outdated tools and approaches? 

The reality is many state and local government CIOs are making substantial progress in strategically orchestrating, in an increasingly agile manner, the mix of old, current and emerging technologies at their disposal. Whether just starting the agile journey or seeking help in advancing it, all CIOs should think through how their organizations are evolving for agility in six key areas (see below).


1. Technology & Architecture

On-premise solutions — with hardware, software and applications owned and maintained by government IT staff — were the standard for decades. Today there’s no longer a need for government to purchase and control all of the components that power its IT infrastructure. Instead, the push is toward digital, cloud and as-a-service solutions, assets and offerings — which support greater flexibility, scalability and cost-efficiency.

2. Delivery Models

Massive waterfall implementations have been commonplace among state and local government agencies and the government IT consultants that support them. In recent years, many organizations have begun to embrace iterative, agile approaches to development, which deliver faster time to implementation and offer end users greater, and earlier, input into the process. Now the expectations are even higher, with opportunities to support joint business/IT delivery and to take advantage of Digital Factories and Agile Centers of Excellence. Another option: providing a devops infrastructure to support agile development projects and manage them into production. Such resources can empower CIOs to rapidly deploy products and services on new technologies.

3. Roles & Workforce

Managing change within the workforce may be one of the greatest challenges when evolving for agility. Government IT staff have often been highly focused on specific roles: business analyst, quality assurance manager, project manager or developer. In most cases, those roles have been further focused on specific applications within the infrastructure. That kind of workforce can be highly limiting in a digital world, prompting a growing number of CIOs to explore more flexible roles. The goal? To bring IT and business professionals together, creating new design and product-centric roles to help focus on outcomes, not backend systems. Success requires a formal and disciplined approach to organizational change management — along with the patience and will to see it through.

4. IT Organization

Siloed IT teams are common, with specific groups supporting specific units within an agency. That approach can slow innovation and inhibit an organization’s ability to anticipate and act on new opportunities. Government organizations should be evolving for multi-speed IT — that is, the ability to respond quickly to innovation and digital disruption, to deliver deliberate care for legacy systems and to address operating models with a pace of change that’s somewhere in between.

5. Capabilities

Historically, state and local IT shops have been concerned primarily with supporting the needs of internal clients and helping optimize daily operations. These days, there’s a growing focus outside the organization, as agencies welcome partnering opportunities and address growing expectations of citizens and other constituents.

6. Sourcing & Partnering

Agencies are increasingly moving away from the traditional emphasis on procuring services by function and consolidating government IT consultants and other vendors whenever possible. Today’s imperative is to create a partner ecosystem that makes it far faster and easier to procure application outsourcing, support joint ventures and create joint offerings. The challenge: to develop new sourcing strategies that align the flexibility of agile software development with the more structured management of application outsourcing contracts.

Agile is a highly structured development model. It’s also a philosophy and a mindset that has become a necessity in today’s fast-moving, ever-changing digital world. State and local government CIOs should consider how they are approaching the six areas described above, and push to find new ways to accelerate the evolution to agility. 

Keir Buckhurst is the managing director of Accenture.