Mar 25 2022

5 Steps State and Local Agencies Can Take to Achieve Continuous IT Modernization

Continuous modernization keeps your agency agile and effective, but it takes a change in mindset.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a steel structure suspended over salt water. Without the protection of its distinctive orange paint, it would rust and fall apart.

One way to maintain it would be to periodically shut down the span and repaint the entire structure, but that would be enormously disruptive. Instead, a team continuously spot-paints portions of the bridge as needed. With a small crew always at work, there’s no need to shut down the entire bridge.

If only government IT modernization projects worked the same way. Instead, many agencies delay projects until their infrastructures reach the breaking point. Then they launch a costly, time-consuming and disruptive project to bring it all up to date.

It’s time for continuous IT modernization. If agencies execute this strategy correctly, it can ensure IT infrastructure is always current and responsive to changing needs. IT leaders should start with these five steps.

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1. Adopt a Microservices Architecture

Microservices reimagine each application as a collection of discrete services. This approach can deliver several advantages. You can improve one component without rewriting the entire application. You can reuse components to quickly create new applications. And the smaller you chop up the pieces, the more useful they are as building blocks for other applications.

Let’s say you have an application for collecting parking fines. If all the functionality is bundled in a single application, the software can’t be used for much else. But if you chop that up as microservices, you can repurpose them for ordering license plates, collecting taxes and so on. If you use a common payment microservice across your parking, license plate and tax applications, when you improve that microservice, the change appears in every application.

2. Deploy Government Apps on a Container Platform

A container packages up an application with its dependencies, libraries and other binaries in a single unit. A container platform packages up multiple containers. This is helpful for continuous modernization because it lets your IT team quickly and reliably move applications from data center to cloud, or from one cloud to another, to meet changing needs. Kubernetes is a highly popular open source container platform.

This approach is also well suited to microservices. A downside to chopping up applications into microservices is that you have to maintain each microservice individually. But with Kubernetes, it’s easier to manage those pieces, scale them up and down, or move them among cloud environments.

3. Automate, Automate, Automate

Continuous modernization involves ongoing updates to applications, operating systems and so on. Your team can’t do that manually without lots of people and lots of errors. The solution is to automate.

Modern application development approaches such as continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) are built around automation. For instance, CI/CD automates steps in building, testing and releasing code. By offloading repetitive tasks from staff, your team can reduce errors and free up resources to focus on mission-critical innovations.

You can also strengthen cybersecurity. Much of your agency’s security posture involves checklists for who should have resource access and how systems and networks are locked down. Mistakes can lead to cyber breaches. Automation can avoid human error and make your agency more secure.

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4. Embrace a DevOps Mindset for Your Entire IT Landscape

DevOps is a set of practices for development and operations. Because it shortens development lifecycles while increasing quality, it’s suited to continuous improvement, and you can extend the approach to every aspect of IT.

A key DevOps concept is CALMS, which stands for:

  • Culture: Continuous modernization calls for a culture that embraces responsiveness and change.
  • Automation: Automation is key to repeatability and reliability.
  • Lean: To continuously modernize, you need to weed out unnecessary tasks that bog down projects.
  • Measurement: If you don’t measure, you won’t know what’s working or not working.
  • Sharing: Staying modernized requires everyone to work toward the same goals, with no teams hoarding information or refusing to contribute.

Certainly, this is a cultural shift, and cultural shifts should never be “one and done.” Instead, applying DevOps to the entirety of IT should be approached as an ongoing practice. But if you can weave the mindset into the fabric of your IT operations, those operations will be well suited to deliver continuous improvement.

5. Start Small and Start Now with IT Modernization

Traditional IT modernization involved one-time overhauls with months or years of planning and rollouts. Continuous modernization takes a very different approach. You start with low-hanging fruit. You get quick wins and gain speed. You build on a growing foundation of lessons learned.

It’s like training for a marathon. You start by running a mile, then five miles. You gain the fitness to sustain your momentum over the long haul.

Any journey begins with the first step. Start now, then embrace the continuous improvement culture that will keep the bridge to your agency’s future open for service.

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