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XChange SLED Speaker: Agile Software Development Is Making Waves In State Government

States have increasingly embraced agile software development to boost flexibility, improve customer satisfaction and incorporate more stakeholders earlier in the process, according to an industry expert.

States have increasingly embraced Agile software development to boost flexibility, improve customer satisfaction and incorporate more stakeholders earlier in the process, according to an industry expert.

Agile development has hit an inflection point, with 81 percent of state CIOs planning to boost their usage of iterative programming methodologies, according to Doug Robinson, the executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). Only a third of states have been using Agile development for more than three years, and 19 percent haven't even entered the space yet.

"We're seeing a lot of excitement in the CIO world to be able to deliver projects on time and within budget using some type of agile methodology," Robinson said hosted XChange SLED 2017, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

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Agile methodology promises to keep a state's line-of-business expertise engaged throughout the development process thanks to continuous iteration, Robinson said. That's a big break from traditional engagements, Robinson said, where the technologists come up with a solution and spend six months building a platform, only to be told by the business side that it isn't what they're looking for.

The developers and business leaders typically come together every one to two weeks in an Agile project to deliver functionality and code, or conduct reviews, Robinson said. Agile has particularly caught on in the health and human services space, NASCIO found.

Since 2015, Robinson said he has increasingly seen more coordination, fewer ad-hoc initiatives, and a greater level of maturity when it comes to agile projects. A few state CIOs have even designated someone in their offices to lead Agile and other iterative development efforts, Robinson said.

These efforts have paid dividends, Robinson said, with 98 percent of CIOs saying agile developing is effective within state government, and 96 percent of CIOs indicating that Agile does a better job of engaging customers as compared with other methodologies.

"There's a much high level of satisfaction and interest in this than I expected," said Robinson, noting that many states in the past have gotten black eyes around project delivery. "We're going to see more widespread use."

But states today are still getting their feet wet when it comes to Agile development, Robinson said. Nearly 60 percent turn to Agile for less than 20 projects across their entire ecosystem, Robinson said, and more than half of state CIOs are still blending Agile with other methodologies.

"There's still some cultural resistance to change," Robinson said. "There's a lack of interest in moving and shifting gears."

A holistic sea change will only come when CIOs who strongly believe in Agile software development really change the direction of their states, Robinson said. This is happening in places such as California, Robinson said, where the CIO has made Agile the top methodology for projects in the state.

"Forty percent [of state CIOs] said they're all-in with Agile, they're not going back, and they're abandoning their other methodologies," Robinson said.

The biggest implement to greater agile methodology adoption is a lack of training, Robinson said. Three-quarters of state CIOs have indicated this is a problem, Robinson said, and are therefore highly reliant on private sector partners and corporate entities to deliver expertise.

State agencies additionally have to overcome organizational and cultural issues, Robinson said, as well as embedded systems and business processes that just aren't built for Agile methodologies. As a result, Robinson said most CIOs will start with pilot projects focused on iterating specific functions within state government and grow from there.

"We have a number of states that have embraced DevOps as well, and I think we will see more interest in this in the future," Robinson said.

Clients of Telecommunications Development Corp. have adopted agile methodologies for both software development and project implementations, according to Vice President and Principal Roger Richmond.

Embracing Agile has made it possible for public sector clients of the New Orleans-based solution provider to demonstrate success to their end users and integrate more stakeholders earlier in the development process, Richmond said.

Most end users have been more selective around where they use Agile, Richmond said, deploying it only for specific instances or workloads.

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