Why Do We Care About DevOps and Where Did It Come From?

To understand why DevOps is a big deal in government, you must first understand its origins and the problem that DevOps solves. Let’s take a look at the IT challenges that plague many government agencies and how DevOps can address them.

By now, government employees are familiar with the fact that difficult legacy technologies are just a part of the job. And although change quickly transforms government workforces and services, some particularly problematic technologies are likely to linger.

In the federal government, about 80% of IT funding goes toward maintaining legacy systems. Therefore, modernization efforts – with remaining IT budgets – cannot afford to fail.

And yet, they do. Breakdowns in the organizational chain of command and communication can render a hopeful and well-intended modernization project useless. That’s why it’s important for any organization to prioritize projects correctly and accurately define business value – but there’s an equally foundational component to getting past legacy IT.

Recognizing a problem is only the first step to solving it. Next is developing the solution. Although crucial, this is often where many organizations fall short, further alienating employees and encumbering systems because of lengthy and prescriptive requirements before deployment. And if they can be developed, implementing these technologies then requires operations teams to ensure that new systems can fit into existing frameworks – and that’s no guarantee. In government IT structures, questions about systems can easily outnumber answers.

By and large, government organizations exist in silos that leave employees stranded when it comes to workflows and systems. In modernization, for example, leaders will often receive requests from users about systems that impede their jobs and need upgrading.

If agency leaders sign off on the improvement, they’ll often convey the general scope of the solution to procurement and development teams. From there, these teams will do their best to tailor a solution that matches all the criteria that leaders earmarked for the investment.

But therein lies the problem: Going forward, the solution’s rollout is up to the interpretation of those who have little to no interaction with the systems, instead relying on possibly murky instructions from leaders.

Operations teams, the ones who will be responsible for using and maintaining the system, have no input into the system’s development in this form of project management. Instead, the teams in charge of using and maintaining the system receive a solution that they had little or no direct influence over and provided no feedback on.

The whole project flow resembles a game of “telephone” played at elementary school lunch tables. By the time the original idea reaches its final iteration – or is “tossed over the wall” from development to operations – it looks nothing like how it was intended and might fail to interact with related systems or meet security requirements.

After the operations staff tests and reviews the project, it needs to be sent back over the wall to development teams to make changes. Even after several tosses back and forth over the wall, the final product can still come up short.

Solution: DevOps Clearing up the Line of Process

DevOps is a response to this classic conundrum of projects across large organizations.

The methodology, which was formalized in 2009, integrates development and operations teams throughout the system’s lifecycle. By eliminating barriers to communication, organizations can continuously iterate and improve systems to ensure that they meet user needs.

DevOps is derived from Agile processes of workflows, whereby organizations fail fast by constantly testing and tweaking projects in response to end users’ experiences.

DevOps adds to the Agile process by breaking down barriers that prevent operations teams from responding to updated developments in the deployment processes for these fail-fast processes. Open source cultures, which encourage cross-team contributions to different phases of projects, also have contributed to DevOps implementations within agencies.

For many projects, DevOps offers a better way. Compared to traditional linear, waterfall processes for software development, DevOps allows agencies to deploy and launch projects with more direction, exactness and efficiency.

This article is from GovLoop’s recent guide “Your Guide to DevOps in Government Today.” Download the full guide here.

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Avatar photo Spencer Grady-Pawl

DevOps seems like a promising strategy for government—and if you haven’t checked out the guide linked at the bottom, let me recommend it!