Government IT is changing in big ways. Did you notice?
Weird acronyms pop up in meetings. Your data center moves off site. When you’re not on IT staff, you skim the email and get back to work. Then, you go to an IT project meeting and realize you have no idea what is going on.
PaaS isn’t Easter egg dye. Agile is a noun? Waterfalls are the worst? Brainstorming requires sticky notes. Lots of sticky notes. When did everything change? I am so far behind.
If you wander into the new IT landscape and need orientation, you’re not alone. How do we navigate this new environment so that we can get the programs we need? Let’s connect the dots.
An old vision for IT
Every government employee ever holds a shared vision for IT. We need better IT management across the federal government. It needs to cost fewer taxpayer dollars, foster collaboration, and produce programs we can actually use (or produce a program at all…).
Making the vision happen
Why is change happening now? For the first time, we have new tools and a workable road map for how to make better IT management a reality.
- Use private sector partners. Sometimes the private sector is better equipped to perform routine tasks or develop IT projects, and that’s okay! Don’t keep your servers on prime real estate in downtown DC. FEDRamp allows companies to meet our high security standards and help us out with cloud computing. We can buy subscriptions to platforms (PaaS) and software (SaaS) and get all the benefits of specialized applications and the benefits of not creating or maintaining the basic infrastructure ourselves. Your overtaxed IT staff can turn to meeting the agency’s unique mission instead.
- Use agency partners. Big tech projects carry big risk. Luckily other agencies, like the Technology Transformation Service’s 18F out of GSA, have the talent and skills to lead you through these changes. They absorb some of the risk employing the experts fostering learning across agencies. We can build on best practices or move without having to find the best practices. As side benefit, these transformative groups imprint on your agency and can subtly shift your culture and approach to technology.
- Change project management. Remember the days when you made a huge list of project requirements, gave contractors a lot of money, and then crossed your fingers? How many times did you get a product that you could barely use? This “waterfall” approach has largely been a disaster. New approaches to project management value understanding users, seeking early and frequent feedback, and using an iterative design processes. We study the internal and external users of our programs. We think we need a website, but maybe our users need to just subscribe to notifications. You can make a beautiful website that no one will use. User centered design helps to ensure you’re solving the right problem, understand who you’re designing for, and design a usable product. The DevOps movement has team members developing applications work closely with the operations side of the house from beginning to end in order to create better products. Using an agile approach, projects are planned in short work sprints, usually around 2 weeks. Developers make part of the product and you give real time feedback. By collaborating early and often, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get a program or a process that you can actually use.
- Acquire technology faster. Getting new tech in the door can take over a year. By the time you use it, it’s out of date. Employees turn to unapproved third party applications to get their work done, exposing you to security risks. We need to learn from shadow IT and what our employees say they need in order to implement useful technology faster. Reforms like FITARA envision an empowered Chief Information Officer that can make faster technology decisions, review existing programs, assess risk for across the agency’s programs, reduce waste, and get tech in your agency’s door faster.
With these new tools and many more, we’re finally charting a new IT landscape, one that is fit, efficient, and adaptable. If you’re not a formal member of the IT team, take the time to understand where we are heading and communicate it to your staff. It’s an exciting time to get involved.
What other developments are you seeing? Which changes are the most exciting? Comment below!