Case Study: Implementing DevOps at US Courts

This blog post is an excerpt from our recent industry perspective, Accelerating Your DevOps Journey in the Public Sector. To read the full thing, head here.

To learn a little bit more about how DevOps is being implemented on the ground in the public sector, we sat down with Peter Chin, Application Development and Architecture division Chief at the US Courts, Department of Program Services.

In the US Courts, Chin’s responsibility is developing operational solutions and services to serve judges, clerks of courts, public defenders, and pretrial and probation officers.

“Where DevOps helps me,” Chin said, “is in achieving my goal of supporting the US courts system efficiently through eliminating waste, identifying repeatable steps, and automating those steps.”

Chin explained that the implementation of DevOps is not necessarily primarily an IT solution. He said rather it almost works backwards. If you can create a culture in a workplace that leads employees to want to try DevOps, that in and of itself is a success, because it means you have worked towards creating a culture where innovation and efficiency are prized.

“Previously as a government executive and also as a private industry consultant, I focused primarily on customer satisfaction and high morale,” Chin said. “A couple of years ago the U.S. courts began adopting agile development best practices, and that was put in place primarily to try to get more valuable releases out the door. But along with that, what I wanted to do is really complete the cycle and receive and implement continuous feedback from our customer base. And part of that is implementing DevOps here. We realized that we needed to implement continuous integration and continuous delivery in our practices in order to achieve that. But the initial focus is on people and organization, and not just tools and techniques. We want to actually create a culture where people feel free to innovate.”

An implementation of DevOps also naturally leads to more cross-department collaboration, Chin advised.

“What it really means is, we don’t want to actually just make changes to production haphazardly,” Chin explained. “We want to be able to make changes, but also manage the risk as we’re rapidly changing the production environment. Part of building that culture is breaking down silos, and having people realize that there’s some common things that people across departments all want to build and test as we’re developing a lot a different things.”

Chin stressed that even non-technical people can be made to understand the importance and benefits of DevOps, as its implementation can benefit all teams and customers.

“One of the first things I needed to do here when I came on board was to really understand who my audience was, because that was the basis for how and why we needed to implement DevOps,” Chin explained. “For the technical folks here, I used different points to sell this concept. One point was that having continuous software delivery through automation meant we’d have less complex problems to fix because there’ll be smaller and incremental changes, and also we’ll have faster resolution of problems. And then of course I had to sell this to our executive level that was only interested in the business benefits. And I explained that use of DevOps meant faster delivery of features, a more stable operating environment, and more time available to add value, rather than having to fix and maintain things all the time.”

Chin ended by explaining that a final reason his agency is implementing DevOps is to break down silos through a reorganization.

“With that reorganization, we’re streamlining our application portfolio,” Chin said. “After we do that, we want to find ways to get feedback from the customer earlier on. And the way to do that is to have a continuous feedback mechanism through a DevOps implementation.”

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