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What Government Needs to Know About DevOps (Contributed)

Increasingly, state and local government needs to deliver services with both speed and quality. The best way to do that is with a new IT collaborative practice known as “DevOps.”

Within state and local government IT organizations, there are development, operations and other specialist teams, such as security, that tend to work in isolation. Typically, one department will initiate a project, then hand it over to another for progression or completion, with little collaboration between them. 

The lack of integration can both dilute project ownership and impede efficiency, which can result in new or updated services taking longer to reach the public. Another potential consequence is that the end result may not be as good as if the teams had worked together from the outset.

Bringing IT Teams Together

DevOps — an efficient IT collaboration model — offers an alternative to these long-established practices. A portmanteau of the words “developer operations,” DevOps brings these previously disparate teams together. The idea is that better collaboration between these groups can improve services for state and local governments and their constituents. 

DevOps brings together stakeholders not just in IT, but across an organization, to achieve specific business outcomes. Working this way instills a culture of collaboration in which individuals take on deeper levels of responsibility, and results in streamlined processes and new toolsets that can help projects get completed in a more agile manner and on time.

Four Successful Ways to Implement DevOps

DevOps has vast potential to help government. Today, software is the basis for the majority of public services, and officials are under pressure to bring new offerings to constituents quickly or update services in accordance with changes in law, regulation or public mandates. 

This permanent state of service flux, which has challenged government IT departments for years, is an ideal match for DevOps. That’s because DevOps upends the notion that stability and speed are mutually exclusive. In fact, speed requires stability, and DevOps helps to reduce risk while offering the velocity that state and local agencies are looking for.

Here are four keys to successfully implementing DevOps within state and local agencies.

1. Start small.

Because DevOps represents such a cultural departure from government IT practice today, I suggest agencies trial small DevOps projects first and demonstrate success before adopting them more widely. Making a wholesale shift to DevOps overnight could risk failure. Work in smaller chunks that can deliver quick wins that help display the power and benefit of agile DevOps practices. 

2. Gain support from the top.

In the words of Adrian Cockroft, the lead architect of Netflix, “DevOps is fundamentally a reorganization.” Modifying any government structure, with its deeply ingrained ways of working and intricate web of workers and contractors, is a challenge — so senior support at the outset is a must. Managers should encourage and drive their staff to embrace this cultural shift, which represents a new way of working that can positively impact the entire organization.

3. Get rid of constraints.

Government agencies should consider how to tackle constraints — the everyday barriers to getting services to market quickly and efficiently. Constraints can be addressed in a number of ways, from creating new architectures or implementing coding changes, to integrating data sources. The IT department can also, for example, create a shared services model through which development, operations and other teams can access common knowledge and tools, enabling them to work faster and more efficiently.

4. Perform “blameless post-mortems” to assess a project’s effectiveness.

Another best practice, which is already embraced by some government organizations, is a “blameless post-mortem” held at the conclusion of an outage, which often happens when production fails or software goes down. Such forums bring together a cross-section of stakeholders to assess why the outage took place. Blameless post-mortems involve analyzing points of failure and discussion of how to resolve them through process or technology changes without finger pointing. They’re a great way to drive continuous improvement.

It's All About Variety, Quality and Timeliness

We live in a smartphone and app-driven culture that has created a need for fast service and near immediate satisfaction. That doesn’t just apply to single-click ordering on retail sites — people expect the same type of service from their government agencies. 

As such, state and local governments would be wise to seek inspiration and best practices from the private sector, where there are many great examples of the art of rapid delivery of services. DevOps can help drive that effort. Instituting DevOps cultures and structures can enable state and local agencies to deliver the variety, quality, and timeliness of public services that citizens have come to expect.

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.