How Can DevOps Really Help in the Federal Government?

On Point3 minutes readFeb 10th, 2016

There’s been a lot of buzz recently around the benefits of bringing DevOps to the federal government. It’s not a new concept, but only a few agencies have capitalized on DevOps to date. Agencies such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and NASA have benefited from leveraging DevOps to become more efficient and agile. Gartner predicts that DevOps will go mainstream in 2016 and be used by 25 percent of Global 2000 companies.

Successful DevOps is first and foremost a culture change, getting developer teams and infrastructure operations personnel (as well as those associated with testing, quality assurance, etc.) to collaborate early and continuously to deliver new capabilities rapidly and smoothly. No more throwing software back and forth over the wall that has historically separated these very different functions. Such a change is tough under the best of circumstances!

To use an analogy to illuminate the benefits of change and collaboration, DevOps can be compared to building a house. Building your dream home can be one of the most exciting and rewarding projects that you can take on. It can also become your biggest nightmare if something goes wrong. One key to success is effective collaboration between your architect and builder.

Think about it: The architect draws up the plans, and the builder implements those plans. The architect incorporates safety guidelines and building codes, and ensures that floor plans include allowances for plumbing, electrical, and cooling and heating systems. The builder must understand how the home’s complex systems work in order to bring in the right carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters and landscapers, while staying within the agreed budget and timeline. If they don’t coordinate, the architect might provide incomplete or conflicting plans, and the builder might discover missed items late in the process, adding delays and driving up cost (and the homeowners’ blood pressure).

The federal IT challenges are similar in nature but obviously much larger and more complex. As a former federal CIO, I have a lot of empathy for federal IT executives who are expected to execute their IT plans in a complex and resource-constrained environment. But their customers’ vital missions demand faster execution, more functionality, and better performance from their IT systems. DevOps offers the potential to deliver on those requirements, if we get the culture change right.

As federal agencies modernize their applications and migrate their IT services to the cloud, DevOps is a tool that can help drive innovation faster. According to research from MeriTalk, 66 percent of federal IT managers believe their agencies needs to move IT services to the cloud faster to meet mission and fundamental needs. The cloud once seemed optional; now it is essential.

Likewise, DevOps is not a choice. It is not a silver bullet, but can help federal deliver new/modern solutions up to 30 times faster, with 50 percent fewer failures, and with happier customers. Those are compelling metrics in these challenging times.

The biggest barrier to DevOps is the fear of change. Embracing a DevOps culture means bringing organizations together and doing away with siloed approaches. There are certainly technical challenges and business challenges. According to analyst Gartner, by 2018, 90 percent of organizations attempting to use DevOps without specifically addressing their cultural foundations will fail. Regardless of where an agency’s culture sits, federal leaders need to bring their own “architects” and “builders” together in a culture of effective and seamless collaboration.

This post was first published in Federal Times at

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