New componentised approaches to building business and technology — that can deliver projects up to 20 to 100 times faster and cheaper than traditional means — are revolutionising how we work and offering government opportunities to radically change how it approaches problems.
According to Andrew Kupetz, Chief Technology Officer of the Cloud Computing division at IBM, this new building block approach to development is far more profound than simply adopting agile type methods and behaviours.
“We are seeing a paradigm shift in how business and IT assembles, builds, and runs solutions, that is seeing massive increases in delivery and cost savings,” Kupetz said.
Akin to pre-fabricated building, using technologies that can be easily plugged together, governments now have a significant opportunity to exploit this new composable approach for rapid and highly efficient solution development.
For several decades technology development has been characterised by bespoke applications, customised packaged applications, costly integration software and effort, dedicated hardware and specialist devices.
However, Kupetz says the emergence of global cloud computing infrastructure, platforms and developer frameworks, open source code, widely accessible data and powerful connectors (called APIs) is “industrialising” business and IT. Add in components such as mobility, connected devices, big data, real-time analytics and cognitive computing as pluggable components and we are at the beginning of a revolutionary change, that many are just starting to realise.“We are in a world of platforms, apps, micro-services and APIs that tie it together.”
“Nearly every industry has gone through some form of industrialisation,” he said, “where global participants create pieces of solutions that can click together.” Kupetz says these solutions are now inevitably available for reuse, creating a whole new way and scale of planning and building businesses, products and services.
The point Kupetz makes is this is much deeper than simply adopting agile project methodologies. While agility is integral to being able to work at the speed consumers are now demanding of both business and government, the real challenge is to embrace this building block approach.
“We can make use of the App and API economies, mobile, connected devices, social, data, analytics, cognitive computing, security, and we can plug all of that together,” he said. “We are in a world of platforms, apps, micro-services and APIs that tie it together.”
As we rapidly move to a cloud native world where software services can be delivered on demand, this offers a whole new approach for government that Kupetz says can deliver 20 to 100 times quicker and cheaper than traditional means.
“Pick, mix and code for your differentiation” is Kupetz’s way of encouraging organisations to rethink their approach to technology: picking the “components” (apps, APIs and micro services) needed, mixing and integrating them into a “composition” (solution) and only coding (software development) for the particular unique requirements needed. It’s the same approach start-ups use to rapidly roll out solutions and applications in a disruptive manner.
In this new componentised approach Kupetz advises agencies to quarantine the old, expose existing value and then build in the new composable world. “Build the new and shrink the old,” he said.
Just as manufacturing relies on creating products from different elements, so too can new IT products be assembled with a wide range of digital tools. Kupetz’s point is that government agencies can now start to create new and advanced types of services with these elements. Quickly and much more cost effectively.
Speed to market
While there are several different characteristics of an agile process, Kupetz says the emphasis in a government context should be a growing focus on speed to development. The questions agencies should ask: “What outcomes do they need? How do they get those for the right price? How can the speed be increased?
“How can government agencies take advantage of analytics, mobile, social, cognitive computing and all the pieces they can bring together?”
Kupetz says this speed-to-market approach will become increasingly important if government agencies want to encourage constant activity and connection to public services. He points to examples already established by agencies such as the New South Wales Department of Transport, which in 2013 conducted an app hothouse session with PwC.“They should look at their services, open up their data, and break down the barriers between the different parts of government.”
During this project, developers were given data from the agency to develop public-facing apps. Several were put to market with millions of downloads eventually recorded. As a result, says Kupetz, a clear road-map has been established in the way public agencies can approach this type of development.
“They should look at their services, open up their data, and break down the barriers between the different parts of government,” he said.
“Something the government could do is actually build a platform, expose APIs and let the ecosystem of developers add value. Give them access to government data, and let them develop tech for services, transport, medical, hospital and other needs.”
Platforms create a standardised development environment and also enable agencies to leverage the development of other agencies using a similar build environment.
Kupetz says the government’s approach to componentised development and the use of data should see the creation of more “hackathons” — short periods of time in which developers are given access to data and design prototypes — in this case, tools for public consumption. “We need to focus more on creating APIs, and opening up data for people to actually use,” he said.
There are merging signs of change. The new head of the federal Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, prosecuted this methodology in the United Kingdom and is an avid advocate of the start small, build quickly and “iterate wildly” approach.