Defining the Importance of DevOps to the Government

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, "Make DevOps a Reality at Your Agency."

What is DevOps? Is it simple collaboration, a fancier version of Agile, an application of sophisticated development tools or something else entirely? The question continues to plague both the public and private sectors. While many technologists have applied their own definitions to DevOps, there’s still significant disagreement over what DevOps really means.

“DevOps presents an opportunity for agencies to transform how IT work get done,” according to Peter O’Donoghue, Vice President of Applications Services at Unisys, a leading provider of application development solutions and systems integration services. “DevOps is in an early adoption phase in government and sometimes it is misunderstood. The true long-term value and what types of benefits are have yet to be realized,” he said in a recent interview.

As a result, it’s challenging to holistically embrace DevOps thinking at scale when there’s inconsistent agreement on the meaning of the term. “The most important thing for DevOps success is the change in mindset that teams experience when they broaden their perspective from simply working in their own silo to really understanding that they’re connected in one value chain to support the government mission,” O’Donoghue said.

“Participating in one value chain, seeing how everyone’s work connects to everyone else’s and committing to removing friction in the process is the basis of DevOps,” he continued. “The vision of DevOps is achieved by teams working collaboratively to continually improve the quality of application releases with clear and increasingly faster feedback loops. Teams using DevOps principles improve application development velocity, security posture and operational performance all at the same time.”

O’Donoghue defines DevOps as “the application of lean thinking across the entire IT value chain.” That practical definition avoids the pitfalls of overly prescriptive approaches that often result in applying a technique or tool that doesn’t fit current agency needs and workflows. At the same time, focusing on the lean thinking of DevOps helps organizations stay mission-focused and thinking holistically.

“Any IT practitioner at the frontlines of this government digital revolution knows that the time between someone specifying a requirement and that requirement being manifest in a production system is non- value added to the mission of your agency,” O’Donoghue said. “Government acquisition, contract management and governance processes have been organized based on promoting healthy competition, assuring separations of concerns and the use of independent verification to drive quality.“

To reduce time between identifying and fulfilling a requirement, agencies should extend their lean thinking beyond the scope of application development across all of their processes to mitigate their specific roadblocks to increased efficiency. Agencies should resist overly specific or tool-oriented definitions of DevOps – which often result in optimizing a single step in the application development process or solving one specific concern in running IT operations.

That’s why agencies need this lean-focused yet flexible definition of DevOps – it allows organizations to tailor their approach to best fit their needs. It also recognizes that applying DevOps thinking is not a one-time event; rather it requires a continued focus on improving quality and velocity.

Organizations are striving to define what DevOps should look like at their specific agency. Unisys provides guidance to help distill that broad definition into a practical DevOps roadmap. Using a DevOps maturation approach, Unisys partners with agencies to baseline their DevOps maturity and culture. Then, they define an achievable set of projects to incrementally adopt DevOps thinking, methods and automation solutions.

“As a leader in application development and systems integration, Unisys has mined lessons learned across its portfolio of government and commercial customers to adopt a broad view on what DevOps actually is and how to mature customers’ practices,” O’Donoghue concluded. At the same time, “Our practical maturation approach ensures that we meet each customer where they are on their own journey of DevOps adoption.”

That’s what agencies ultimately need – an approach to DevOps tailored for them that aligns to their culture, processes, policies, technology investments and contracting strategy that facilitates incremental adoption. DevOps can help agencies meet their missions by accelerating development to create better, more secure, more stable and user-friendly technologies for their stakeholders.

To reap the most reward from DevOps thinking, O’Donoghue asserted that agencies should partner with seasoned private sector partners who can help accelerate a comprehensive transformation in getting IT work done more efficiently and cost effectively.

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