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3 keys to building a federal DevOps culture

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DevOps is certainly not new, but it is becoming more important every day. This is especially true in federal IT. The private sector has embraced DevOps, and it has changed the way businesses operate.

It’s been six years since the first DevOps Day in Europe, and its influence has spread around the world. In that time, the end of isolation between development and operations teams has paved the way for commercial organizations to turn out better software more quickly and to achieve new levels of quality and efficiency.

Unfortunately, those successes have not translated to federal agencies. The 18F program, with its support of agile software delivery, is an enormous step in the right direction, but there are still critical barriers to overcome if agencies are going to adopt true DevOps cultures.

Here are three keys to making that vision a reality:

1. Change the culture of fear. As with the cloud, the biggest federal barrier to DevOps is the fear of change. It isn’t unique to the government, but it’s amplified in this market because the stakes are so high. When you’re responsible for protecting national security or public health, trying something new can be daunting. That type of change comes only with buy-in from leaders at the highest levels, so how do you get them on board?

The best way is to start small. Move forward with a low-risk pilot program. Get the developers and operations teams in the same room working toward a common goal, and track the benefits. When agency leaders see the reduced turnaround time, efficiency gains and cost savings, they’ll be ready to build an agencywide DevOps culture.

2. Find and build talent. DevOps is a culture shift that requires talented people with unique skills and experience. However, the “right” people are scarce and in high demand. To overcome the talent gap, agencies must implement a two-pronged strategy that incorporates recruiting and training.

The private sector has a role to play in providing educational support programs to agencies with the goal of building the next generation of federal DevOps leaders. In parallel, agencies must get more aggressive about recruiting top tech talent from our universities. A commitment to implementing emerging IT strategies that include DevOps, agile software development and cloud computing will make federal IT a more attractive place for our most talented graduates to find employment.

3. Measure, measure, measure. One of the best aspects of DevOps is its ability to deliver return-on-investment metrics. You never have to guess whether or not it’s making an impact.

The first step is to record the baseline metrics. Agencies must know how efficient — or inefficient — their existing software development processes are at the outset. Then it’s time to start tracking the improvement.

Based on our experience, software builds will be three to four times quicker, and deployment will be eight to 10 times faster, with a 50 percent uplift in quality (measured by a reduction of incidents and incident duration). We’ve seen enterprises institute a DevOps structure and reduce release windows from 2 days to 2 hours, just through repeatability and scalability.

There is a saying I hear repeated often: “To err is human. To err on 10,000 servers in 10 minutes is DevOps.” It’s good for a laugh but, at its core, DevOps is the realization of a more productive, efficient organizational model. It’s time for the government to break down the barriers, build a modern IT culture and deliver better software in shorter cycles.

About the Author

Raj Ananthanpillai is CEO of InfoZen.

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