The way we look at and use databases has changed dramatically over the past several years. Starting with data center consolidation mandates and the push to Cloud First and later Cloud Smart, agencies across government have been reinventing how they use and access databases.
DevOps is making an impact on how databases are planned and managed. The continuous updates and faster releases are being applied to database management to make government more agile. It also acts to make government systems more secure. The DevOps process that introduces more automation and continuous improvement means that human-related data errors can be mitigated earlier in deployment processes. Combined with encryption, this approach of granting access to sensitive data to those with the correct permissions can also mask the data in copies of databases used for development and testing.
The potential "downside" of DevOps throughout government is the fact that application developers are being asked to double as database administrators to maintain fluidity in the process and support an agency's rapid release cycle. But, if we recognize this concept of the "accidental database administrator," we can get them the tools to succeed. Software as a Service-based application performance management (APM) is one tool that developers can use to continuously identify performance and availability issues leading to proactive reporting of matters that may be "beyond their pay grade."
With many people in a rush to put 2020 behind us, those of us in the government market can safely say we're operating like it's 2021 (not as fun as partying like it's 1999, but anything beats 2020, right?). While the rush to meet the deadline for federal government fiscal year (GFY) spending on September 30 may have felt oddly comforting in its familiarity, there are many changes happening in government acquisition and procurement to make processes more responsive to today's workforce and technology needs.
The use of automation is expanding beyond using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to handle rote, repetitive tasks. RPA has been incredibly beneficial for freeing up the time of acquisition professionals to focus on innately human activities, rather than administrative tasks. Now, acquisition groups are going a step further and introducing Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve processes by tapping into all of the data available in acquisition systems. For example, GSA uses an AI-enabled bot to "track, find and change Section 508 disability clauses in contracts." This helps ensure compliance, feeding updated clauses to humans for final review.
In September, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued Directive 5000.01, an update to the 5000 series instructions that focuses on the roles and responsibilities for its acquisition process in an effort to simplify the buying process. The end goal of this simplification is to get technology in the hands of the warfighter faster. Continue reading
DevOps, a combination of the words development and operations, is designed to smooth the frequently problematic handoff between an organization's developers and its operations staff. It is an operational philosophy that has technology developers and the operational team who will use the technology working together closely through the entire development of a technology solution. The goal of this approach is quick releases of solutions that have an immediate impact on how people do their jobs.
On the surface this sounds like a perfect fit for government, an "industry" in need of fast digital transformation to meet citizen needs. The DevOps promise of making application development quicker and cheaper is incredibly attractive to the government. However, the third part of the promise, collaboration, proves to be the most problematic as culture and process stand in the way.
From a culture perspective, organizations need to break down silos and create brand new teams focused on an application's output, rather than on tactical roles. To achieve this goal, individuals need to be empowered with autonomy and be enabled with strong communication skills to ensure everyone understands their roles and buys into the overall project objective. As U.S. Special Operations Command CIO Lisa Costa described it, "creating a DevOps culture is akin to practicing tactical shooting. You remove all extraneous movement, and that's how you get efficiency." She said her team focused on stripping away processes that had accumulated over the years but were not serving the objective of getting solutions out to the field quickly. Continue reading
We've covered how government procurement is evolving to meet the way agencies implement and consume technology. From agencies' use of public cloud platforms to agile development methodologies, old acquisition methods are unable to keep up with the pace and process required by modernization and digital transformation goals across government. In fact, the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act was implemented to allocate funds specifically for the update of legacy IT systems to help agencies improve service delivery to the public, secure sensitive data and systems, and increase efficiency. To meet these mandates, procurement processes and technology have to change to be more in tune with the digital transformations happening at the operational level.
As government agencies look to respond to modernization calls from the executive branch as well as citizens at large, agile and DevOps practices are being employed to help speed time to "market" with new applications. A report issued in early 2019 found that sixty-nine percent of respondents said that their organizations are piloting agile, if not partially or fully adopting it. But, the same report also saw a significant percentage of respondents say that agile met their expectations "less than expected" and "much less than expected." So, if agile is seeing an uptick in use, why is it not meeting expectations?
The issue may lie heavily in training and understanding. Agile is not just a new process; it's a new mindset. It requires a new organizational structure that is a departure from the traditional command and control hierarchy of government. Agile teams are relatively flat with everyone holding interconnected and equally important roles. There's not only a logistical change that needs to happen in terms of org charts and structures, but also a cultural shift to a collaboration-driven rather than command-driven environment.
To begin really seeing the benefits of adaptability, speed, and cost efficiencies agile promises, people need to be trained not only on the process but on the softer skills of communication and collaboration that power the process. We've pulled together a collection of upcoming events that may help. Continue reading