If everything goes as planned for Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information, the state will soon be able to develop secure software applications faster and improve everyday services for the public and state employees.
Chief Technology Officer Greg Lane described the state’s journey as a continuum during GovLoop’s IT Evolution Virtual Summit on Wednesday. Lane said the department is piloting an agile integration platform that will make it easier for microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs) to quickly retrieve and connect data from multiple state systems. For Lane’s technical staff, that means developers will be using a common programming language to build lightweight interfaces between applications.
For security personnel, there will also be a greater peace of mind knowing that security policies can be rapidly implemented across applications.
But part of the challenge Lane and his team face is that development of this platform is running concurrently with other active modernization projects that could benefit from this approach. There’s the temptation to continue doing business as usual — building monolithic applications — because the platform isn’t fully developed yet.
“We have a challenge on getting the platform established and getting expertise in place to support doing things the new agile way and not have them spend new money on old architecture,” Lane said.
Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information has an innovation component that functions much like a research and development arm and has supported the pilot. But Lane acknowledged it’s one thing to launch a proof of concept; it’s another thing to fully scale that service. Lane’s strategy for supporting the platform longer-term is to demonstrate its value to state agencies and make the case for them to include money in their budgets to fund the effort.
So what value would this agile integration platform provide for users?
“We are finding some successes,” Lane said. For example, the department is exploring a statewide platform for e-signatures, enabling users to digitally sign and route documents. He envisions having a microservice that will make it easier for the necessary HR systems to participate in the routing process and ensure managers are notified when documents need signing. For citizens awaiting benefits or other services that require government sign-offs, an electronic approach to the often cumbersome signature process is transformational.
To truly understand the impact of agile integration and microservices, let’s quickly break down what it means and why it matters.
Agile and integration are two words you’ve probably heard used independently in government. But what happens when you combine both of those words to drastically change the way governments develop and deliver everyday services to the public?
As agencies build new, cloud-native applications, they must also consider how those applications will interface with their legacy systems. The answer for a growing number of agencies, including the state of Delaware, is agile integration.
Agile integration is the approach that allows microservices to be added, removed or updated without disrupting other services. Red Hat, an open source software solutions provider, has collaborated with government agencies to support these efforts.
In terms of microservices, Red Hat describes it this way: “Instead of a traditional, monolithic approach to apps, where everything is built into a single piece, microservices are all separated and work together to accomplish the same tasks. Each of these components, or processes, is a microservice. This approach to software development values granularity, being lightweight, and the ability to share similar process[es] across multiple apps.”
When it comes to rolling out these types of new capabilities, education and training are key, said Manav Kumar, Senior Middleware Solutions Architect at Red Hat. “The one thing is the willingness in the workforce.”
For teams that are willing to learn, there’s an excitement to learn about API management and microservices, which work in coordination with machine learning and artificial intelligence, Kumar said.
Ultimately, for agencies looking to launch or expand their agile integration efforts, working closely with business owners to understand their current and future needs is key. It’s about “skating where the puck is going to be,” Lane said.
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