5 steps state and local agencies can take to achieve continuous IT modernization

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

One way to maintain it would be to periodically close the span and repaint the entire structure, but that would be extremely disruptive. Instead, a crew continuously paints parts of the bridge as needed. With a small team still at work, there is no need to close the whole bridge.

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

It’s time for the continuous modernization of IT. If agencies execute this strategy correctly, they can ensure that the IT infrastructure is always up to date and responsive to changing needs. IT managers should start with these five steps.

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1. Adopt a microservices architecture

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

Let’s say you have an app to collect parking fines. If all functionality is bundled in one application, the software cannot be used for anything else. But if you break that down into microservices, you can reuse them for ordering license plates, collecting taxes, etc. If you use a common payment microservice in your parking, license plate, and tax apps, when you upgrade that microservice, the change appears in every app.

2. Deploy government applications on a container platform

A container bundles an application with its dependencies, libraries, and other binaries into a single unit. A container platform packs multiple containers. This is useful for ongoing modernization because it allows your IT team to quickly and reliably move applications from the data center to the cloud, or from one cloud to another, to meet changing needs. Kubernetes is a very popular open source container platform.

This approach is also well suited for microservices. A downside of splitting applications into microservices is that you have to manage each microservice individually. But with Kubernetes, it’s easier to manage these things, scale them, or move them between cloud environments.

3. Automate, automate, automate

Continuous modernization involves continuous updates of applications, operating systems, etc. Your team can’t do this manually without lots of people and lots of mistakes. The solution is to automate.

Modern approaches to application development such as continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) rely on automation. For example, CI/CD automates the steps of building, testing, and releasing code. By relieving staff of repetitive tasks, your team can reduce errors and free up resources to focus on critical innovations.

You can also strengthen cybersecurity. A big part of your agency’s security posture involves checklists for who should have access to resources and how systems and networks are locked down. Mistakes can lead to cyberattacks. Automation can prevent human error and make your agency safer.

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4. Adopt a DevOps mindset for your entire IT landscape

DevOps is a set of practices for development and operations. Because it shortens development cycles while improving quality, it is suitable for continuous improvement and you can extend the approach to all aspects of IT.

A key concept of DevOps is CALMS, which stands for:

  • Culture: Continuous modernization requires a culture that embraces responsiveness and change.
  • Automating: Automation is the key to repeatability and reliability.
  • Slim: To continuously modernize, you need to eliminate unnecessary tasks that slow down projects.
  • The measure: If you don’t measure, you won’t know what’s working or not working.
  • Share: Staying modern requires everyone working toward the same goals, with no team storing information or refusing to contribute.

Admittedly, this is a cultural shift, and cultural shifts should never be “one and done”. Instead, applying DevOps to all of IT should be approached as an ongoing practice. But if you can embed this mindset into the structure 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 point-in-time overhauls with months or years of planning and deployment. Continuous modernization takes a very different approach. You start with fruit at hand. You get quick wins and gain speed. You build on a growing base of lessons learned.

It’s like training for a marathon. You start by running one mile, then five miles. You gain in shape to maintain your momentum over the long term.

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

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