Fostering Agility in Your Agency

One of the most common ways citizens interact with government is through agencies’ online platforms. As a result, agencies must be agile in what platforms they are utilizing and providing, to ensure they are flexible and able to meet high citizen expectations.

In order to better understand how agencies are leveraging agility, GovLoop sat down with Keith Trippie, a former Senior Executive at the Department of Homeland Security and Dan Katz, the Technical Director of Public Sector Acquia in the recent online training, “Becoming an Agile Agency: Tips to Better Websites and Citizens Services.”

Their discussion revealed five key tips for staying agile when updating web and citizen services:

Tip 1: Consider a managed PaaS or SaaS solution.

Using a consolidated managed platform instead of building infrastructure allows agencies to have their software and hardware all in one place. Utilizing a PaaS or SaaS solution means that agencies only have to go through one procurement process. “One of the huge benefits of a managed platform is that with these models, you don’t have to sit around waiting for either the software or the hardware because it is all in one platform,” Trippie explained.

Katz broke down the differences between PaaS and SaaS when he explained, “PaaS is like a box of Legos where you are using the direction to put together a new application while SaaS is like the Fisher Price telephone that is already constructed and you just have to use it.” Which one an agency chooses depends on their capacity to work with the platform and how much vendor support they need.

Tip 2: Don’t be a box hugger.

Government agencies often don’t want to let go of their old ways. However, the speakers emphasized that handing over platform management to outside vendors frees up bandwidth within the agency to focus on building applications for citizens.

The Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) is an example of an IT department that stopped hugging the box. Katz explained that GTA offloaded as much of their digital infrastructure and platform to Acquia and other trusted vendors. “This allowed employees in the department to focus on the needs of their constituents rather than keeping the lights on at the department,” he said. By transferring platform services to vendors, agencies no longer have to worry about capacity as the vendor is able to maximize availability and provide round-the-clock application support.

Tip 3: Get more value out of your systems integrator.

In order for agencies to get the most out of their systems integrator, they need to leverage technology solutions that add value to achieving the agency mission. Katz underscored that there is a real compliment between a good systems integrator and a PaaS provider. “Systems integrators bring information about the agency to the vendor so the vendor can enable the agency’s technology innovation as much as possible,” Katz explained. As a result, agencies need to identify exactly what systems integrators are doing that directly impacts the mission of the agency. Once their role is clear they can bring vendors to the table to further that work.

Tip 4: Ensure embedded security by design.

It is critical that security is built into agency platforms instead of building security into platforms after they are created. Katz explained that Acquia’s PaaS is FedRAMP certified so all the agency needs to be responsible for is securing the application they build on the platform. “This saves a lot of time and money for agencies because all of the risks and security control has already been taken care of by the vendor,” he explained. Embedded security gives agencies an assurance that standard security models are being followed and that their platform is safe.

Relying on the platform provider also frees up agency capacity and allows employees to focus citizen services rather than securing their platform. Trippie explained, “the beauty of having a PaaS or a SaaS provider is that you have cybersecurity professionals who are solely working on ensuring that your software and infrastructure are updated and support continuous security.”

Tip 5: Deconstruct the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Finally, as agencies work to provide better citizen services they are going to have to move away from protracted procurement to smaller process that takes less time. Katz underscored that once agencies are on the same page with more agile solutions, it will be much easier to craft an accurate request for implementation.

The path to more agile procurement is a discovery process for each agency but both speakers underscored the importance of trial and error. “Leadership has to promote experimentation so we can eventually get it right,” Trippie explained. “Thought leaders and change agents must be celebrated in an environment where experimenting and failing early on is okay because organizations need to learn what does and does not work.”

As your agency moves forward in the modernization process, remember Katz’s final takeaway— “use your limited resources in a wise way. Vendors are a valuable resource as they can take cost burdens from the government and allow agencies to shift their focus from keeping the lights on to perpetuating the mission.”


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