A Technology Vision for the GSA
This vision encompasses a transformation of GSA IT towards adopting modern IT practices and providing guidance and support across the organization to be successful in that transformation.
Vision Statement #1: Share technology
GSA IT consolidated its organization and is moving towards shared technology. Currently, each business line has its own separate technology stacks with many different requirements at the edges but generally does not differ in underlying infrastructure and commodity capabilities. Realizing the benefits of being one GSA IT means transforming those stacks to shared technology. This means identifying a service model for shared platforms, aligning that to a business architecture, and understanding roles, costs, and expectations. This allows services to be “sold” internally as commodity, so IT’s value to business is more clear and our division of capabilities are well-defined.
What does share technology mean?
Within the GSA IT office, across all IT service domains (e.g., Acquisition, Buildings, Infrastructure, etc.), we should utilize technologies already in place. This allows us to consider economies of scale, better purchasing options, and better management of the technonology. It also provides for compatibility of product/platform service offerings.
What does shared services mean?
GSA IT currently supports many agencies either through simple data connections through secure VPN tunnels (e.g., sharing public building data with SSA to account for federal employee location and utilization calculations) or more broadly with full IT infrastructure support happening at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Vision Statement #2: Make small bets
Traditionally, investment requests span multiple years and millions of dollars. The new Agile IT investment templates and approach to smaller implementations provide a focus on constructing proofs-of-concepts and prototypes before scaling to the final implementation. The alignment to shared services allows us to use key elements of the technology stack to reduce project startup costs. The Agile IT process will expand further into the investment process. This dramatically reduces risk by aligning business and IT expectations and allows for greater flexibility in our technological implementation.
What does it mean to practice Agile at GSA?
Agile is a newer approach to accomplishing projects at GSA and in general business. It is largely associated with software development but has been expanded to other funtional areas and projects. A current approach is to start with considering the investment, with little investment and small scope that is doable within a 6-8 week time period (usually about two or three sprints). This provides the organization time to conduct discovery of current technology and to consider a path forward with a proof of concept. This is all worked with an integrated team including a scrum master, product manager, designers, developers, SMEs, and end users (or some variation thereof).
Vision Statement #3: Modernize and innovate with technology
The GSA is one of the foremost technological adopters in the federal government; we are looked to as the first mover of technology. In order to successfully do so, the agency needs to explore new technologies while also exiting outdated technologies. This includes identifying expensive, difficult-to-maintain technology while moving towards more open architectures. The technology transformation supports business services built around business capabilities that are continuously delivered and that are easy to replace when no longer needed. Separating from legacy technology and moving to API-driven, data-centric implementations provides improved, cheaper user experiences and better management of security.
What does modernize and innovate with technology mean?
Complementary to Agile and keeping pace with the nature of change with technology, GSA IT should keep abreast with the latest technological tools include software (development tools, SaaS) and hardware tools (IaaS, client computing). From a development standpoint and considering end user involvement, innovation should be considered and conducted by developing tools considering a strategic end state. Thus, useable technology that is modern.
Vision Statement #4: Be open
There are multiple OMB policies mandating agencies to be more “open” including Open Data/APIs and Open Source, GSA should demonstrate leadership across the government by being aggressive in a transition towards opening its information assets; this includes opening our code, data sets and APIs as a matter of public good. Good APIs will allow for an ecosystem of external and internal applications that will provide and support citizen and government reuse of data and functionality.
What does be open mean?
GSA is dedicated to open first policies involving data, APIs, and source code. This in compliance with OMB policies and also good modern technology and business practices. This approach facilitates a move to digital applications and infrastructure and provides opportunities for external agency and public involvement. One good example with public engagement is with GSA Hackathons where individuals compete for cash prizes while creating MVPs with open data.
Vision Statement #5: Users come first
A primary failure of IT system development is a lack of user engagement throughout implementation. Through the incorporation of Agile Investment, Agile project management, and DevOps implementations, we can ensure that users have direct impact on products as they are continuously delivered to them. User experience should be insourced into the GSA so the agency itself can have internal skill sets in this area. Further, we need to continue the concept of mobile availability of GSA services for its employees, partners and customers.
How do I put the users first?
End users come first, this is integral to system design and development. Frankly, why build a system/app/website otherwise? The ultimate customer is the end user as the system facilitates work efficiency, collaboration, products, etc. The end user should be involved in the project from the beginning by working on the Agile project team. End users should be consulted throughout with end user reviews. And, feedback should be obtained from end users for further system enhancement.