Guest Post: Keith Salisbury on Transforming Government Through Lessons Learned in Silicon Valley

salisbury_keith_small(Keith Salisbury, vice president for U.S. federal sales at Pivotal, shares his insights about the changing nature of software and how industry works with public sector agencies to build modern software similar to Silicon Valley’s most-admired Internet companies with the goal of transformation in government.)

The dominant cloud trend we are seeing now contains vastly similar conditions in government to what we see in the private sector: a realization that “cloud” can deliver flexibility and economies of scale that make IT dramatically more efficient. While this is a nice outcome, it doesn’t help a private enterprise compete more effectively with the “cloud native” startup who just showed up in their industry.

In government, “cloud” changes how IT is delivered and consumed, but it doesn’t change mission effectiveness. The private sector has realized “efficiency” isn’t the most compelling result of cloud. Compelling value has been realized by aligning the business more closely to the customer through custom written software that delivers new and powerful customer experiences and enables new business models. We’ve seen the benefits of high attention to design, detail, and engineering in modern ‘cloud native’ applications for years; the experiences Facebook, Google, Uber, or Apple deliver through custom application development are well known.

Modern cloud applications hold great potential to transform mission effectiveness, service to citizen, and to allow government to harness the full power of the cloud. Government has realized it is impossible to sustain the way contracts are executed and applications are developed in waterfall methodology in today’s world of growing demands and shrinking it budgets.

Against that budget backdrop, there are many other obstacles for government in their cloud journeys.

The first barrier to entry is cloud portability and choice. The mainframe era delivered powerful transformation, but when a government agency put a mainframe app into production, how easy was it to move that app to the client-server era? Virtually impossible. You were locked-in, which is why so much government work load is still running on mainframes.

Cloud cannot result in a similar mainframe ‘lock-in.’ We believe cloud ought to be about “how” you do things, not “where” you do things. Agencies need to be able to shift workload when cloud economics or security conditions change. On-premise private clouds, off-premise public clouds, or a combined Hybrid cloud strategy all have their place, but applications should never be tied to any specific cloud provider or stack.

That said, the real value of cloud is in the applications.

The next dimension of the platform is enabling a developer experience similar to that of a coder sitting in Silicon Valley. Why should the government pay higher rates for ‘Agile’ developers, only to have them spend weeks standing up the infrastructure in a development environment before they ever write a single line of code? And once they start writing code, developers want to use modern programming languages, services, and open source tools. Their goal is to continuously deliver new application updates, features, and functionality to applications whenever necessary and they need a platform that provides a high degree of automation to accomplish this.

“Cloud native” companies conceive an idea on Monday, and push code into production by Friday…sometimes faster. This speed of continuous innovation is how cloud native companies quickly adjust the way they interact with customers and how they are transforming industries overnight. Fifty-two percent of 2000’s Fortune 500 are no longer there in that club, so commercial enterprises are all looking for the competitive advantages they can gain through software, which is a powerful forcing function to speed the pace of IT innovation. Imagine if government could move at this pace!

Through automation, a true cloud native platform facilitates the continuously delivery of software through the entire application lifecycle: development, test, staging, and production. As a result, an agency’s top engineering talent can focus on building quality code that transforms their mission, rather than manual, infrastructure-oriented tasks.

Structured, cloud native platforms can take the mundane, gated software lifecycle process, full of manual security audits, and automates it in a way that can be certified once. The same platform can then be re-certified at any point in rapid fashion.

GSA’s 18F talks about how they took their ATO process for pushing code into production from twelve months down to a handful of days by leveraging automation in cloud. Industry security experts can even audit the system security plans since they are all open source, which is a game-changing concept for information assurance.

In the private sector, speed is king in cloud. Government operates at a different pace and must stay on the rails even as technology advances so rapidly. One of the final pieces is what we refer to as “the Day 2 experience.” Building modern cloud native applications quickly is great, but once you push applications into productions the journey has only begun.  The Day 2 experience is really important for any enterprise, commercial or government. Standardizing how you run an app in the cloud is massively important.

Patching, updating, scaling, monitoring health and performance all occurs in a highly automated, zero down-time way in the cloud native world. Speed isn’t just about getting features out the door, but the speed at which you can find and fix problems, that gives you resilience in your IT in the cloud where you assume fragile infrastructure.

Platform can enforce policy, standards, and repeatability which allows you to get new functionality into your application quicker, and also gives you a more stable, manageable platform over many, many years of service.

We see big enterprises working very hard to rediscover the way they build and run software in the cloud era. Our aim in industry is to help them make this transformation so they compete more effectively with the cloud native companies. Government can benefit in the same manner. Cloud portability, the developer experience, agile development methodologies and Day 2 operations are all attributes every organization must harness to capture the true promise of the cloud era.

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