How does open source tech transform Government?

The purpose of government should be simple — serve the public — but the manner by which governments deliver services is often a complicated mess

Thus, many (if not most) people are discouraged by the bureaucratic inadequacies they encounter during interactions with public agencies.

Change has been slow, but cloud native technologies and modern open infrastructure is giving governments around the globe the tools they need to step into the digital era. Government agencies, much like large enterprise businesses, are transforming their culture and operations to embrace fundamental changes and foster digital transformation efforts.

In the United States, federal agencies are under a mandate to speed up cloud deployments to improve efficiency and better serve the public. Unfortunately, due to requirements that are unique to government agencies, this process can get bogged down for more than a year while developers navigate compliance issues.

18F, a digital consultancy formed within the U.S. government, realized that every agency was struggling with this issue and created cloud.gov. The open source cloud-based platform is a secure, fully compliant PaaS that helps federal agencies deliver services in a faster, more user-centric manner.

Cloud.gov dramatically limits how much time developers spend managing the underlying server infrastructure because it has built-in mechanisms that create the necessary documentation and continuing assurance for federal agencies to comply with FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) regulations and ATO (Authority to Operate) requirements.

Cloud.gov’s adherence to open source technology also opens up innovation efforts to the wider community of open source developers.

Bret Mogilefsky, innovation specialist at 18F, said at a Cloud Foundry Summit:

“The speed with which you can deploy a change or fix is huge.”

“Cloud.gov helps agencies imagine how things can be easier and lets us demonstrate how easily they can shift their culture to be more agile.”

Open Source Benefits Abound

As more governments shift to digital, opportunities also abound for agencies to share insights and speed up their deployment of applications at scale.

Liam Maxwell, former national technical advisor to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, said at Cloud Foundry Summit in Europe:

“Government needs to change to be free to keep up with digital transformation.”

“We need to move from silos to platforms — and share technology much like sharing electricity between departments. To do this, we need to use open platforms.”

Because open cloud platforms allow innovation to be shared among governments, the wheel does not need to be recreated for every path to cloud adoption.

“Governments don’t need to compete. They can share best practices and technology. They can even share code that works well for them. At many levels, governments do much of the same work and use very similar processes.

“Open cloud platforms allow governments to collaborate so that what works well for one can be replicated by another. This means digital transformation happens faster.”

To empower the UK government in its digital transformation journey, Maxwell worked with his team to develop a code of practice, standardized design principles, simplified governance and created a digital marketplace that opened up the supplier market to more small- and medium-sized vendors.

Maxwell further commented:

“Open unlocks change and the dynamic force behind it is competition. True competition drives the adoption of open source.”

Government leaders typically face tough resistance in the early stages of a digital transformation effort, particularly with respect to capabilities, legacy, security and procurement, according to Maxwell. Cloud-based infrastructure is not only more secure than on-premise systems or data centers; it also enables governments to attract and retain today’s digital-native talent.

Whereas the most forward-thinking developers might have shied away from government technology because of the bureaucracy that gets in the way and can delay the release of their creations, open source cloud-based technologies speed up the entire process.

Maxwell also said:

“You don’t need proprietary technology, you need open technology that works for everyone across the government. The primary user need in government is to remove the friction — all successful tech businesses are about taking away friction to make things smoother, faster, easier. That’s how the government keeps moving fast.”

“Make things open; it makes things better.”

Organizing Around Outcomes

The shift to a digital mindset also underlines the unnecessary complexities that governments impose on the public. No digital transformation journey in government would be complete without a comprehensive overhaul of that structure. Governments must embrace the opportunity, with an evolutionary cloud native platform, to create a new framework that organizes applications and websites around outcomes.

Lindsay Holmwood, former head of development in the Australian federal government’s Digital Transformation Office, said at a Cloud Foundry Summit:

“We assume people understand how the government organizes and operates, and we structure our sites like that. But people don’t care about that when they visit our websites; they just want to solve a problem.”

With as many as 2,200 sites in operation, Australia’s Digital Transformation Office was created to make the use and delivery of online services easier for the public. Similar to cloud.gov in the United States, Australia developed cloud.gov.au as a cloud-based PaaS and selected Cloud Foundry as the foundation for that effort.

Cross-functional teams from DevOps, security, design, UX, content, and management are collaborating and innovating at a much more rapid pace. Opting for agile processes has allowed developers to test and validate ideas on a continual basis to speed up general availability and deliver better outcomes for the public it serves.

This approach has democratized the development and release process by involving more contributors with unique insights and perspectives.

We’ve all seen examples of the slow pace of change in enterprise. All the inefficiencies and broken systems we encounter every day with government are even worse. The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Governments around the world are prioritizing digital transformation as a critical objective.

Like enterprises, governments recognize they don’t have to be locked into a closed or antiquated platform, and they no longer have to commit precious resources to maintaining those technologies.

When government agencies choose an open source cloud native platform, they are giving developers the freedom to focus on building apps that are intuitive and impactful.

And when that happens, the public benefits.

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