Insight by CA Technologies

The three As of modernizing agency systems: Agile, APIs, automation

Otto Berkes, the chief technology officer for CA Technologies, said to modernize its technology and deliver that digital transformation, agencies need speed to delivery.

The Evolving Need to Modernize

You really have to take a true outcome based approach and understand the business value of investment you will undertake.

The Agile Development World

The pillars that I think are important to keep at the top of everyone’s minds are to move to more agile approaches and breaking down siloes, increasing customer focus, increasing automation to reduce the number of dollars going to maintain legacy systems, and trust and security are foundational.

The growth and acceptance of agile or dev/ops to develop software and tools across agencies is both surprising and welcome.

Bloomberg Government found in 2017 that spending on agile services increased to $368 million in fiscal 2016 from $242 million in 2015 among the 40 biggest contract vehicles.

And we’ve seen agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration, which plans to transform more than 70 applications into a modern architecture through agile, or the Food and Drug Administration, which is moving one step further than agile and by moving to a micro-services architecture, dev/ops or iterative development is catching on quickly.

Within a microservices architecture, organizations build apps that are independently deployable, easy to replace, often times organized around specific capabilities, can be implemented using different programming languages and build using automated processes.

All of these efforts are helping agencies meet the goals of the Trump administration’s IT modernization initiative. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

One big challenge in all of this move to agile is agencies tend to take a one-off approach with contracting as every agency still is figuring out what agile means for them and how to incorporate it into their acquisition processes.

Otto Berkes, the chief technology officer for CA Technologies, said to modernize its technology and deliver that digital transformation, agencies need speed to delivery, which is what agile provides.

“You really have to take a true outcome based approach and understand the business value of investment you will undertake,” Berkes said on the discussion “Modern Software Factory for Government IT Modernization” sponsored by CA Technologies. “It’s important not to simply pursue technology because it’s in fashion, but look at the end-to-end system, the architecture what you are delivering and make a value-based decision.”

Berkes, who wrote a book about digital transformation called Digitally Remastered, said because agile breaks projects into bite-sized chunks, agencies can constantly deliver new value at a high velocity.

“Agile is heavily customer centric, delivers functionality and measures impact and takes data and turns it into feedback loop,” he said.

He said two private sector examples highlight the potential value of moving to agile—Williams-Sonoma moved to agile and went from one major release a year with minor updates to releases every three week. At PayPal, Berkes said before moving to agile, the company went from rolling out new three new capabilities over 18 months to completing 58 new capabilities in the next six months.

Berkes said one important key to having success with agile and digital transformation is for agencies to know where they are starting.

“Step one is knowing your inventory of hardware and software. Step two is choosing carefully the things you are going to change in a sequenced way,” he said.

Berkes said agencies have a huge opportunity with the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act and the associated $100 million governmentwide Technology Modernization Fund and agency-specific working capital funds.

“There will be some low-hanging fruit where you can have some small projects with real near-term impacts. There will be some projects that will be multi-year projects that will require multi-year focus and multi-year investments,” he said. “The pillars that I think are important to keep at the top of everyone’s minds are to move to more agile approaches and breaking down siloes, increasing customer focus, increasing automation to reduce the number of dollars going to maintain legacy systems, and trust and security are foundational.”

Berkes added agencies also have a real opportunity to create the feedback loop with customers to better understand the value of the services and where it can be improved.

Along with agile, agencies should develop and use application programming interfaces (APIs) to help create a conduit for information to flow from government to citizen.

A web API is for any system to exchange information with another over the Internet.  Berkes said web APIs flatten the way systems can be connected together.

“You can take an older system, whether COBOL or mainframe, it doesn’t matter what the underlying technology or programming language it uses, and put a modern API interface on top of that and continue to use the value of that system in a completely, modern flexible way,” he said. “It can service hidden or trapped value that would otherwise be written off as a legacy system.”

Berkes added agencies need to ensure they have API management to ensure they are both protecting the data as well as controlling the flow of information to the right systems.

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