18F, an organization within the General Services Administration (GSA), was launched in 2014 to help drive innovation across government. Along with its sister organization, the U.S. Digital Service, 18F is transforming government in new ways using a combination of cloud, mobile and agile services.
Greg Godbout, Executive Director at 18F, and a 2013 Presidential Innovation Fellow, helped start the organization and led the team responsible for its success. Next month, Godbout is stepping down from his role to take on new challenges at another government agency. The Smarter Planet blog caught up with him at a recent IBM-sponsored Government Executive federal cloud event to get his perspectives on the roles of cloud and innovation. Below are excerpts.
Smarter Planet: At the recent GovExec event, you said that demand for 18F’s services are through the roof? How is cloud playing a role?
Greg Godbout: Program offices across government are looking for services that are focused on user centered design and are agile. Cloud and open source are playing a tremendous role because of the elastic and scalable nature. Every organization in government or not has peaks of activity where there is a need for infrastructure that can spike up quickly and come back down. The pay as you go model is paramount here and a key part of delivering services that align in the most responsive way possible.
SP: What lessons about the cloud can federal agencies learn from start-ups?
GG: If you’re a startup, you’re going to start in the cloud; it’s perfectly aligned for that purpose. However, the challenge for existing enterprises is that they struggle with how exactly to move from data center to the cloud. However, a startup and an existing enterprise may provide similar services. In that context, an existing entity can still embrace the idea that new services can be elastic and scalable. Aside from new technologies, new services require new operational models to be successful. Even a startup – after 10 years or so – ends up with some legacy systems. But they can be successful because they wrap new services around them. In a similar vein, if a government agency brings cloud in, but applies the same traditional data center approach around it, they are not going to see the benefits cloud has to offer.
SP: Given the federal government’s existing IT investments, at IBM, we’re seeing demand in the federal space for hybrid cloud approaches that either connect multiple cloud environments or connect a cloud environment with an existing IT system. In that context, there’s an opportunity for innovation with PaaS offerings like IBM’s Bluemix that are helping developers leverage these hybrid environments. Do you have similar observations?
GG: Platforms are a good thing as they are helping developers use off the shelf capabilities that are repeatable, freeing up developer time to focus on what needs to be customized for unique user experiences. You will see 18F using similar developer platforms in the future. Hybrid is certainly a natural progression from data center to cloud. It’s a great way to transition and 18F is involved in several projects like that. The challenge is ensuring the legacy part of the system can keep up with the elastic nature of cloud. Can you wrap the legacy system with an API that is beyond a stop gap measure? In addition, even for new cloud services, hybrid will be necessary because there can be any number of reasons why certain apps have to be completely on prem from a security perspective.
SP: How has 18F been successful in driving innovation?
GG: We were paired with innovators inside government and helped provide an environment where that innovation would stick and be shared broadly where possible. We’re all about driving open innovation across government.