Automation: 3 ways it enables innovation in public sector IT

Automation and related technologies play a key role in modernizing federal IT. Consider these examples
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Public sector IT is perhaps one of the most misunderstood industries today. It has a reputation as one that relies on legacy systems. However, what many fail to see is the overwhelming pressure faced by public sector IT to constantly ship and run upgrades, all while being pulled in a thousand directions under a limited budget.

As each year passes, the current practice of maintaining legacy systems grows more costly and potential security risks heighten. It’s clear that the current system is no longer sustainable. It’s time for government CIOs to prioritize implementing automated DevOps systems that will scale the delivery of more secure and efficient apps.

Adopting new technologies helps teams facilitate innovation, improve security, and work faster, but they require large investments in time and money. CIOs must champion a massive cultural shift – one that encourages experimentation and failure – to ultimately be rewarded with reduced operational costs and security risks as agency work, collaboration, and service delivery become digitized.

[ Learn how leaders are embracing enterprise-wide IT automation: Taking the lead on IT Automation. ]

Let’s explore a few examples of how automation can benefit federal CIOs and IT teams.

1. Enabling humans to innovate

Much has been said about the role automation plays in innovation. For years, many industry watchers posited that the rise of automation will entirely eliminate the need for human involvement and threaten jobs.

Rather, the approach today is to treat automation as a supplement to human employees – a tool that can take on more administrative or tedious tasks at scale so that developers and security experts can focus on requests that require more nuance or detail.

Hyper-automation is a critical tool when encouraging innovation in federal spaces. Automated tools simplify and consolidate complex toolchains, enable consistent compliance verification, and eliminate manual processes that are prone to human error. This creates consistent verification processes, provides a consistent baseline, and allows agencies to deliver products faster – all while allowing teams to experiment and iterate on existing products.

2. Building security into the process

Automation is also critical to ensuring security is a core piece of the software development lifecycle. It’s no longer enough for security to be the last consideration of the process.

[ Read also: How to explain DevSecOps in plain English ]

Automated tools can establish code quality and security thresholds to help ensure vulnerable code is caught before production. It also shifts test and security functions into the main development workflow, saving rework and downstream impacts as compared with traditional development flows.

Automating security allows teams to detect issues at scale, set a baseline, and identify anomalies. This frees up human security teams to proactively identify more nuanced, complex vulnerabilities and address them ahead of a security incident or data leak.

Automating security allows teams to detect issues at scale, set a baseline, and identify anomalies.

3. Cultivating a culture of innovation

Adopting automated tools and platforms can be a challenging process, made even more difficult by the cultural shifts required internally. This starts with the CIO and other leaders who will need to budget time and resources to promote experimentation and empower employees to take ownership of the process.

This shift will require an overhaul in how organizational workflows are structured. Leaders should audit existing workflows and eliminate any silos or bottlenecks. This will reduce any inefficiencies and enable teams to ship high-quality products faster.

The future of the government CIO

Modernizing any existing infrastructure is resource-intensive, whether in a government agency or a private company. Often these resources face roadblocks such as limited budget or lack of buy-in from leadership. The culture of an organization can make or break how a new tool or system is integrated into the current environment.

A few agencies have responded to the ongoing pressure to modernize systems by looking to the private sector for tried-and-true solutions and talent – in 2021, a former Microsoft executive was confirmed as the CIO for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This represents a turning point in the public sector’s approach to innovation: The agencies that do not retire legacy technology will continue to see delays and vulnerabilities, while the ones that prioritize automation will receive the fruits of innovation and improved speed to mission.

[Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

Bob Stevens is the Area Vice President of Public Sector at GitLab Inc., the DevOps platform. GitLab’s single application helps organizations deliver software faster and more efficiently while strengthening their security and compliance.