Developing Interest in DevOps

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

AI Goes Local

State and local agencies are home to some of the most innovative ideas in government. Their use of artificial intelligence (AI) is no exception. Localities are embracing AI as a way to make sense of all the data they hold to better understand how citizens are using their services and where gaps may exist. A survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released in the fall of 2019 found that 32% of those surveyed "strongly agreed" that AI and related technologies can help them meet citizen demands and improve operations. Specifically, the survey found that nearly 50% of respondents planned to use AI as a way to shift workers away from rote tasks and toward high-value activities.

Taking a look around the country, we see some interesting applications of AI at the state and local level.

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Renewing the Focus on Citizen Experience

Citizen Experience (CX) has been an important focus for many government agencies, as well as a key tenant of the President's Management Agenda. Now with considerably more people depending on government support for everything from general public health information to loans to keep small businesses running to unemployment benefits, CX is more important than ever.

While government still scores poorly on customer satisfaction surveys when compared with commercial organizations, there have been a number of bright success stories in the federal market. Looking at what has worked, there are several themes that every agency should keep in mind when designing customer experience improvements.

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Department Spotlight: U.S. Department of the Treasury

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is the steward of U.S. economic and financial systems, and is responsible for maintaining the nation's financial infrastructure. This includes the production of currency, the disbursement of payments to the American public, revenue collection, and the borrowing of funds necessary to run the federal government. The most familiar agency within Treasury may also be the most dreaded, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). With tax time approaching, we thought it was a good time to look at the challenges and focus of the Treasury.

  • Cybercrime - The Treasury has always been focused on preventing fraud related to currency and tax evasion, but much like the Department of Defense has recognized cyberspace as a new battlefield. Treasury is now focusing on the Internet as the primary stage for money-related crimes. The speed at which crimes are carried out online require new techniques and tools. The use of cryptocurrencies to mask criminal behavior is also a huge focus of the Treasury's investigative departments.
  • Blockchain - While blockchain has a tie to the movement of cryptocurrencies (both legitimate and criminal), Treasury is also looking at the technology as a way to better facilitate the management of federal grant funds. In one case, the National Science Foundation is using blockchain to track grant payments and ensure that the terms of the grant are being followed.
  • Cloud - Like the Intelligence community, Treasury is looking to develop a cloud solution that meets the unique security needs of its mission while delivering on the efficiencies of the on-demand nature of cloud. The Department is developing a proposal for "T-Cloud," an enterprise wide suite of cloud and professional services across multiple providers. The goal to is award this contract and get it implemented by 2022.
  • Citizen Experience - The IRS may be one of the most visible government agencies as citizens interact with them at least once a year. With their high touch with the public, the IRS has been a leader in redefining what customer service means in government. In fiscal 2018, 90% of customers were satisfied with their service via phone or a tax assistance center. This does not mean the work is done. A recent report gave the IRS a C+ on its use of language, saying the agency needs to make their web content more user-friendly using Plain Language

For those working at or supporting the Treasury, there are several upcoming events that can help bring these challenges and their solutions into focus.

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Department Spotlight ~ U.S. Department of Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Innovation

Fall visits to the farmers market take us back to simpler times when people lived off the land. Today's farmers may provide the same "output" of food, but how they manage the growth and distribution of it has changed dramatically.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 1862 and was nicknamed "The People's Department" by President Lincoln because of its mission to support the farmers that feed the nation. Today, the USDA is focused on providing "leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management."

In achieving this mission, the USDA has become a hub for innovation. It was chosen as the first host agency for a modernization Center of Excellence (CoE). Spearheaded by the General Services Administration (GSA), the CoE at USDA was established to accelerate IT modernization across government to improve the public experience and increase operational efficiency. The CoE centralizes top government tech talent and combines it with private sector experts and expertise to implement best practices to move processes and technologies ahead. The CoE is focused on five functional areas: Cloud Adoption, Contact Center, Customer Experience, Data Analytics, and Infrastructure Optimization.

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