What Government agencies will do in IT in 2016?

Washington DC
Government agencies will accelerate the adoption of lean IT development processes and collaborative culture in 2016, says Booz Allen Hamilton.

The focus of Government agencies will be to expedite delivery of mission capabilities, and reduce system development and maintenance costs.

Silicon Valley Meets Washington D.C.

With the election ahead and no new, long-term budgets outlined, the old way of incremental progress and antiquated processes is out the door. In its place is the start of a new culture focused on innovation and R&D that will meet the demands of consumer-centric users. Some in the federal IT acquisition community are starting to leverage hackathon-type solution development activities to accompany, or even replace, traditional written proposals. The recent Agile Delivery Services BPA awarded by the General Services Administration’s 18F organization is an example.

Innovation incubators are emerging and will continue to expand within key civil and federal agencies to help facilitate that shift, and they are applying lessons learned from the lean, accelerated delivery processes at consumer companies like Spotify, Facebook, and Google. This Silicon Valley technology leadership and expertise is being positioned as a valuable resource for government agencies, as indicated by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s multiple 2015 visits to the West Coast in an effort to strike the right balance of collaboration.

Scaling Agility

In 2016, more and more government agencies will need to address the demand for speed, innovation and cost containment. The pressure put on organizations to do this effectively yields the need for scalability of lean Agile development efforts broadly programs and portfolios. Taking components of successful Agile development processes completed by smaller teams, such as continuous feedback loops, prioritization for value, more frequent development cycles, and increased collaboration, and replicating that on a larger scale will be vital for government agencies in 2016. Emerging models, such as Scaled Agile Framework, which has been shown to return 30 to 50 percent improvements in productivity and quality, as well as a 200 to 300 percent improvement in time to market versus traditional delivery methods, will gain even more traction in Washington as agencies look to expand efficiencies, both vertically and horizontally.

A Team of Agile MVPs

If scaled agile software processes are to be successful, the government team behind the work needs to take on a new level of responsibility and partnership. Industry has exhibited that it’s the cultural challenges that serve as the primary inhibitors to wide scale adoption of these practices, as opposed to technology inhibitors. Recent studies report a lack of management support for agile adoption, core values which are at odds with agility, and external pressure to follow waterfall based governance models as three of the top inhibitors of agile adoption (9th Annual State of Agile Survey, Version One).

Agile success is driven by a culture of collaboration, constant measurement and automation. This cultural shift is especially important in terms of prioritization; project leads and product owners must effectively communicate goals, provide feedback, and set priorities to continuously maximize the delivery of value. Software development is knowledge work, not manufacturing. In the year ahead, this will become even more important as agencies will look for opportunities to build effective agile teams that fit within the context of the business and close the gap between ideation and execution via constant iteration and feedback.

Modernization is Modular

The traditional architecture of systems can be complex and monolithic, requiring millions of lines of code to be compiled, tested, and deployed to implement a simple change. In 2016, modular systems and microservice based architectures will become increasingly important as they have been shown to reduce the cost of system ownership, accelerate the deployment of new functionality, and improve overall system stability.

Leveraging a microservice–based architecture allows development teams to more effectively institute and deploy changes while minimizing the risk of adversely affecting the overall system. The popularity of containerization tools, such as Docker, is easing implementation of this architectural approach, and is accelerating its adoption in the development community. As an example, a large federal agency has implemented open-source container technology with the goal of consolidating legacy applications onto a single public cloud platform. The result is a modular, micro-services architecture that will be sustainable for the long-term.

Out with the Old, In with the Open

The old model of selling weighty commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) business application software or enterprise application lifecycle management tools to measure the progress of systems delivery activities is slowly dying as a business model. In its place will be more lightweight, and in some cases, open source utilities to meet these needs. Government agencies understand that open source utilities are an increasing segment of their IT strategy, but they’ve been traditionally hesitant to adopt for security reasons. In 2016, they will need to prioritize the move to an open environment, while understanding the related licensing and security considerations of open source solutions, as well as emerging legislative controls which governs its use in federally funded systems.

Measured Resiliency

As government agencies put pressure on increased innovation and real-time iterative updates, it’s equally important to develop systems with resiliency, extensibility, and maintenance in mind to lower the total cost of ownership for IT solutions, and protect against “vendor lock-in.” Agencies will also accelerate the use of integrated, lightweight automated tools that provide real-time health updates on the quality of code, progress of deployments, and health of critical IT infrastructures throughout the development and deployment lifecycle.

Discrete measures and service level agreements related to structural code quality, technical debt, and continuous monitoring results will be more broadly adopted as a gauge of delivery performance. In addition to more advanced tooling, this approach requires closer integration between traditional operation and maintenance software teams and software development groups.

“With new guidelines and guidance in place, like FITARA and the US Digital Services Playbook, federal agencies are shifting from a ‘keeping the lights on’ mentality to one of constant innovation and iteration,” said Gary Labovich, Executive Vice President for Booz Allen’s Systems Delivery business.

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