Is DevOps in the Public Sector compatible with outsourcing?

Is DevOps in the Public Sector compatible with outsourcing?

DevOps is no longer practised only by organisational revolutionaries and early adopters. It’s now widely accepted as a best practice for digital transformation execution. Data from Forrester Research shows that 50% of organisations are now implementing DevOps. However, only 18% of public sector organisations have developed a DevOps approach, despite enthusiasm for it. So why does the public sector lag behind in adoption? 

Contracts

Outsourcing was previously the attractive option for service delivery due to public sector budget constraints, especially at the local government level. However, a history of outsourcing digital services to third parties has left government departments with lengthy contracts that hinder modernising efforts. This abundance of outsourcing removes the need to heavily invest in training internal employees and creates a lack of the skills required to implement DevOps practices effectively.

According to Robert Half Technology, 89% of CIOs across the UK see DevOps becoming a core competency for developers and infrastructure professionals over the next five years. This should be no different for the public sector but skills will continue to lag if an overreliance on outsourcing continues. 

People and Skills

As the public sector moves away from multi-year, outsourced contracts, the challenge now is determining how to foster skills from within the civil service. Currently, there simply isn’t enough in-house capability to make DevOps work. Incentives must be put in place to make working for government attractive, encouraging the top talent to join as the DevOps skills market remains highly competitive.

Along with development of in-house capabilities, an attitude and mindset shift is needed. Cultural resistance has been cited in research by Computing as the most common stumbling block with DevOps transformations. Although DevOps relies on agility, rather than a top-down approach, there still needs to be buy in from senior levels in order for the right culture to develop.

Tools

Beyond method and culture, organisations need the right tools and modernised operations departments. If this side of the business is outdated it can be difficult to implement DevOps practices that rely on continuous automation and monitoring during every developmental step and incremental release. Additionally, compared to the private sector, public sector organisations are less likely to have a fully modern operations department due to a legacy of outsourcing and stagnated training. However, change is already underway as the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) demands for shorter contracts are starting to be realised. This means we’re more likely to see a rise in the kinds of departments and organisational infrastructures needed for successful DevOps execution.

One Team Mentality

Organisations with a ‘one team’ culture are more likely to succeed at the implementation of DevOps practices. However since a significant amount of public sector development is done by third parties, teams are split, which simply doesn’t provide an optimised environment for DevOps.

Many of the principles of DevOps require an internal capability – with focus on a mentality of continual learning and improvement, rather than a ‘get the project done’ attitude. This shift is starting to occur in some areas along with a move to services where GDS is involved.

In some areas we are seeing successful Digital Transformation and DevOps practices in play, with the GDS serving as an in-government consultancy. This approach supports the development of digital platforms from within public departments and strives to move away from long-term, external contracts. However, there is still a way to go.

Adopting DevOps requires investment in technology, tools and automation, as well as people and process change. Significant elements of DevOps success include procurement and the sourcing arrangements of contracts. In order to get these right, an attitude and culture shift is key. Some organisations are already finding success and 2018 may be the year that DevOps goes mainstream in the public sector.