Agile, OSS and Cloud Strengthen Government’s Mission

The road to IT modernization is not without its challenges, but government is moving forward with a steady pace.

At least, this is what Dan Katz believes. He’s the technical director for the public sector at Acquia, a government partner with intimate knowledge of the struggles and eventual benefits that come along with making updates to IT infrastructure. At worst, he says, government agencies can jump into something like agile delivery without the right team and end up in over their heads. But at best, getting government up to speed can work wonders for citizen engagement. Having seen agencies across government adopt agile thinking, Katz is hopeful.

“The rumor is starting to spread,” he says.

Right now, many agencies still hold themselves back with monolithic modernization processes—as is government’s wont, these processes strive to define and budget projects upfront and execute them in a predictable way. That approach is increasingly unfeasible.

“Factors can come out of left field,” Katz says. “Schedules get pushed, budgets get blown, and sometimes projects don’t even get completed.”

But government has the capacity to overcome the difficulties of an outdated process. Agile development and its acolytes, open-source software (OSS) and cloud computing, are making their ways into governments across the country. Together, the three provide nonpareil speed, security and support to government services.

Agile processes are based in the idea that organizations should solve for problems along the way rather than trying to plan everything in one “big bang.” OSS, in turn, exists on the premise that the community of developers surrounding it provides a support network that constantly checks it for vulnerabilities. That same community also serves as an expert resource when problems do occur. Using OSS, government can avoid not only locking themselves into building a system from scratch that eventually turns out to be flawed—but they can also implement solutions via a process that enables periodical updates in parallel with implementation.

For example, the city of Boston launched a new iteration of its city website at beta.boston.com using the open-source content management system (CMS) Drupal. In doing so, Boston was able to create a dynamic site that they could revise as citizens provided incremental feedback.

“Doing things in an agile way helps involve citizens better,” Katz says. “That’s one of the clear benefits of this methodology: Any voice that wants to be heard is heard.”

Katz also offered the Navy’s Sixth Fleet as an example of a government entity that has seen agile benefits from using OSS and cloud. The organization used to take number of days, sometimes weeks, to publish new content because of a siloed content team that was dependent on a proprietary system. Working with Acquia, the Sixth Fleet implemented Drupal and can now make content changes in a matter of minutes, Katz says.

To compound the value of OSS and pave an even smoother road to agile methods, the Sixth Fleet leveraged Acquia’s cloud platform-as-a-service, allowing them to focus resources on innovation rather than maintenance and operation.

Five or six years ago, Katz says, mentioning open-source or cloud in government might have been greeted with scoffs or eye-rolls. Today, federal CIO Tony Scott encourages OSS in government and considers cloud a new standard in security.

Over the next few years, Katz thinks personalized experiences and one-to-one interactions with government will have a similar advent thanks to agile thinking. Citizens will start to interact with government in the same way they’re used to interacting with technology in their private lives.

The benefits of agile development, OSS and cloud are clear, and government is on its way to embracing them. As for Katz and his team, they just want to help government to be better.

“Our vision is providing a tool with which government can determine their own destiny,” he says. That’s the most important aspect of this cadre of new technologies: government can gain some technological autonomy. And when freed from the binds of proprietary systems and waterfall acquisition agreements, agencies can make innovative, measurable progress toward achieving their mission.

To learn more, download the issue brief on this topic form Government Business Council and Acquia.

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