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How DevOps Improves the Customer Experience

So much DevOps hype

Like a lot of concepts that come from the world of technology, DevOps has two immutable qualities. It means different things to different people, and it is surrounded by a seemingly endless amount of hype.

Because DevOps can refer to both a set of cultural practices and a collection of specific tools, it can be difficult to understand exactly what the term refers to. It also seems to be endlessly hyped by vendors and software companies — some with valuable tools and services to sell but others trying to co-opt the term to advance their brand. This adds to the confusion about what DevOps is, and why it’s important to agencies.

The truth is this — not only is it important for agencies to understand what DevOps is, it is absolutely essential to helping them meet their goals for improving the customers’ experience using government digital services.

The essence of DevOps for agencies

A smart person I worked with a while ago once described DevOps this way:

What DevOps tools allow agencies to do is to iterate more easily. They make iterative delivery cheaper, safer, and easier.

That always stuck with me. What one team means when they refer to “DevOps” can differ based on the specific set of tools, practices, or processes that they use. But fundamentally, it encompasses the same concept — the ability to deliver improvements to software in a way that is faster, cheaper, and more secure. That’s it.

But why is this so important for government agencies?

One of the most critical priorities for government agencies today is to improve the experience of customers that use their digital services. This imperative is the basis for an Executive Order issued by the Biden Administration and is at the heart of agency efforts to adopt human-centered design (HCD) approaches to digital service delivery. Implicit in adopting an HCD approach to digital services is the need to quickly deliver improvements based on the needs of actual users.

Agencies that are unable to leverage user feedback and analytic data and quickly put changes into the hands of users are unable to reap the benefits of HCD. What’s the point of listening to a user’s needs if you can’t actually help them by improving your software? DevOps is the way that agencies close the feedback loop with users, and give them the changes they need to improve their experience with government digital services.

The bottom line for agencies

As DevOps tools and platforms continue to evolve and become more complex, and the “Ops” suffix gets added to a seemingly endless list of other activities and undertakings, it can be difficult for agencies to appreciate the importance of DevOps. 

In her new book, Recoding America, author Jen Pahlka talks about the gap that often exists between the adoption of a government policy and the implementation of that policy through digital solutions. That gap is real, and the ability of agencies to deliver working software that people can actually use can make the difference between a policy’s success or failure. 

DevOps is an approach that agencies can use to deliver high-quality, secure software to their customers. In the end, this is what matters most for government agencies and those they serve.

Mark Headd is a Government Technology SME at Ad Hoc. He is the former Chief Data Officer for Philadelphia, serving as one of the first municipal chief data officers in the United States. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and is a former adjunct instructor at the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration. He spent 6 years with the General Service Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), serving on the leadership team for 18F and leading customer success efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

Image by Nick Youngson on Picpedia.org

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