May 18 2020

3 Steps to Bridge the Gap Between Central IT and State Agencies

IT teams need to embrace strategies and technologies that encourage and support both collaborative efforts and autonomous operations.

Here’s a riddle: How do you bring two completely disparate teams with the same objective together, yet still keep them completely separate? 

For central IT and agency IT administrators, this isn’t a trick question; it’s a real challenge. Both groups want to provide citizens with better services more quickly, and they depend on each other to deliver upon this objective. 

Unfortunately, from an agency perspective, that dependence can also be a hindrance if it takes six months to procure new functionality from central IT. This can lead agencies to seek out their own solutions, which may or may not comply with central IT’s policies.

A better approach is for central IT and agency IT administrators to adopt methodologies, strategies and technologies that encourage and support both collaborative efforts and autonomous operations. Here are three steps to make this happen — as I learned firsthand working with one state who accepted the challenge to build a more efficient application platform.

READ MORE: Discover how the state CIO's role has come to the fore in recent months. 

1. Create a Unified IT Team

The same concept behind DevSecOps can be used to address the challenges central IT and agency IT teams are facing. The different groups must come together and discuss the criteria both organizations need to meet. Then, they can begin working in tandem to create an ideal path forward that works for everyone.

A single team consisting of representatives from central IT and each state agency should be created. The participants are up to each group, but, at minimum, those involved should include developers from the respective agencies and architects from central IT. 

Once the team has been established, overall goals and objectives should be addressed and decided upon together and a regular meeting cadence established. Establishing goals at the outset can prevent teams from making individual decisions that go against the collective good, while short scrum meetings can effectively keep communication lines open. 

These beginning stages build a foundation of trust and a culture of collaboration. Agency teams can work on their projects understanding the parameters established by central IT. Meanwhile, central IT can have better visibility into the needs of its agency partners while being assured that those partners are not independently investing in their own, unsanctioned solutions.

2. Provide Flexibility to Agency IT Teams

The key to becoming more agile is allowing each agency to build, deploy and manage its own applications, independently adding capacity, deploying databases and middleware, and any number of other tasks involved in application lifecycle management. All of this should be done without relying on central IT or impacting other agencies. 

A flexible and open platform with strong security capabilities, shared across central IT and state agencies, is ideal for this mission. Agency developers can safely build and deploy applications on different infrastructures without having to worry about what those underlying infrastructures are or how they work. They can do their jobs without having to provision what they need from central IT. 

Conversely, central IT can rest assured that development is taking place on a sanctioned platform that meets its security requirements. No one at central IT needs to be concerned that those developers are going to go off on their own and provision their own cloud infrastructures. They’ve provided the agencies with the tools they need to develop what they need, when they need it, while still maintaining control, visibility and management. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Learn how state and local agencies can take government meetings online. 

3. Embrace Automation for Your IT Teams

Automation is the final key to helping both central IT and departmental IT teams accelerate their efforts and reach their goals. Automating important yet time-consuming processes — from maintenance operations to the small steps involved in building a piece of code — can prevent human error and significantly minimize the time it takes to create an application.

Studies show human error as the leading cause of downtime, while an IBM report found that it is the culprit behind one quarter of all data breaches. Automating development and management processes can relieve people from having to do much of the tedious work that leads to these issues, creating a more resilient and secure operation.

Removing this work from the equation can also accelerate the development process. A task that may have taken hours or even days can now be done in minutes. This empowers developers and IT managers to be more productive and reach that common goal of delivering better services, faster.

These changes will not necessarily be easy, especially for agencies that have not already committed to a DevSecOps culture or are using traditional waterfall development practices. The types of technologies mentioned above cannot be retrofitted and made to succeed in such environments. 

Those organizations willing to adapt their processes to the technology — and not the other way around — and make the necessary cultural changes will have the most success. They will be able to bridge the gap that exists between central IT and state agencies and give everyone what they need to expedite the development and delivery of citizen services.

johnason/Getty Images