Historically, the teams building software have been separate from the IT teams that are responsible for operating the software once it’s ready for use. A vendor might spend years building new software, and then a government IT team (or a vendor filling that role) might then require many months of work to get that software to function correctly on their servers. This is usually accompanied by frustration and finger-pointing, and can lead to project failures. To address this, government agencies often insist that the vendor building the software also host it indefinitely on the vendor’s infrastructure, which has the effect of ruling out most software vendors (who are not in the hosting business), and creating vendor lock-in with its associated high prices. Relying on these old approaches will get you less and cost more than adopting the modern software tools that are standard in the private sector.

The way to address this is with DevOps. This is the practice of coordinating the work of these two groups to automate the work that goes into testing software and moving it to a live server where people can use it — merging software development and system operations. The developers write a series of automated processes for ensuring that the software will function properly in production, over the course of writing the software itself. Developers cannot merely hand their completed work to the system operations team and declare "hey, it works for us" — they are responsible, both practically and contractually, for their code working properly.6

Odds are good that most of the software you use every day, whether on your phone or your computer, was written just like this. Under DevOps, testing software quality is automatic, testing software security is automatic, merging multiple developers’ work is automatic, and moving completed software to servers is automatic. (The incorporation of security testing in DevOps is sometimes labeled as "DevSecOps.")


6. For more on DevOps, see the Defense Innovation Board’s "Is Your Development Environment Holding You Back? A DIB Guide for the Acquisition Community." ↩︎