While state and local government agencies were working to deploy digital services and improve the delivery of constituent services before the pandemic, the urgency accelerated by ten-fold over the past two years as citizens in every state and jurisdiction needed government services delivered quickly and remotely. They needed and expected a holistic, digital experience with the same easy access, responsiveness, and transparency that they have in other aspects of their lives.
Government officials and technology teams heard those calls. A recent survey of state chief information officers conducted by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) found that digital government/digital services delivery is a top priority in 2022 for state CIOs.
Strategize and Collaborate for Successful Digital Government
To achieve digital government, agencies transform their processes, data management, and services into fully connected and automated systems to deliver timely, responsive services to constituents. Achieving digital government requires legacy system modernization, consolidation, and optimization, and embracing modern development and security practices such as DevSecOps.
By turning to cloud computing and software-as-a-service solutions, some agencies have had early successes in moving some parts of service delivery to more efficient, effective modern environments. However, in the absence of a broader strategy, those agencies risk creating modernized siloes.
“To really achieve a digital government, agencies need to define their digital transformation strategy, and ensure it encompasses technology, culture, and processes,” said Clara Conti, vice president and general manager, public sector, at Red Hat, an open-source technology solution provider.
A critical part of that strategy development, Conti said, is embracing the interdependency of agencies and the services they provide. State and local agencies all serve the same citizens and can benefit from shared technologies, data, and processes.
“When an agency decides to tackle a problem, it will serve that agency better to work with a centralized IT organization or other agencies to find a common solution,” Conti said. “This approach will solve more than just the problem at hand. Leveraging a technology or process that’s been useful in another agency and sharing lessons learned will benefit everyone involved, from employees to constituents.”
Michigan Employs DevSecOps and Container Technology
The state of Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) is a good example of a centralized IT support function that is helping state agencies move toward digital government. The DTMB supports internal and citizen-facing services for 19 state agencies, including health and human services, policing, and environmental protection. By consolidating data center, IT help desk, and IT security, the department has saved Michigan millions of dollars.
Just after the start of the pandemic, DTMB partnered with Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to improve COVID-19 contact tracing. Contact tracing had been conducted via phone, but calls were often ignored. To reach more people, DTMB and MDHHS wanted to implement text-based tracing.
To speed development of this new capability while ensuring security, the two organizations moved from traditional application development processes to DevSecOps using container technology and Red Hat’s OpenShift container platform. The container platform was delivered in partnership with MDHHS solution architects and developers and DTMB architects. Then, implementation of the text messaging function took two days, instead of the typical three weeks with traditional application development.
The new system saved the state $17,000 on the first day and an estimated $300,000 overall. Approximately 1 million citizens per month received text messages, and the response rate was significantly higher than the phone-based method of contract tracing.
Cloud-Native Architecture Speeds Digital Transformation
The State of Michigan is committed to digital transformation that drives efficiencies to deliver modern, high-quality, high-value technology solutions for citizens and connects customers to services, state IT officials noted in a report about the contact tracing effort. A shift to cloud-native environments and containerization has been central to the state’s IT modernization.
“We wanted to take advantage of cloud-native operating environments, with all new applications built using a cloud-native architecture, to meet demand while also streamlining back-office operations,” said Jack Harris, chief technology officer, at the DTMB. “Open source helps us standardize but avoid vendor lock-in.”
Open-source container technology gives agencies the ability to choose where to build, deploy, run, and manage applications at scale for a consistent experience. It also reduces application delivery time and administration overhead, improves system resiliency and infrastructure security, and increases the availability of critical applications.
“Shifting to cloud-native environments is a critical step in agency IT modernization,” Conti said. “To really accelerate digital transformation, agencies can look to open-source container technology and an enterprise-ready Kubernetes container platform that supports the agency’s cloud strategy, whether that includes a private, hybrid, or multi-cloud or edge deployments.”