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Federal agencies aren’t the only ones working to modernize their IT systems. State and local governments, as well as many higher education institutions, are trying to deliver better services and experiences to customers, faster. And they face a lot of the same challenges.
“The hardest part of modernizing your IT infrastructure isn’t really tied up in the software or technology,” Damien Eversmann, Red Hat senior solutions architect, said. “The technology is there. In most cases it’s robust, with a lot of features, functionality, and benefits. The place where most people get tied up is the culture of their organization.”
The classic structure of an IT organization usually involved a series of silos, where different groups like developers and operations would work in isolation, writing code for an application or trying to deploy it without any input from other teams. Because collaboration wasn’t a common practice, the different teams became territorial and entrenched, rather than working together.
“You have the people in charge of storage, the people in charge of networking, and the people in charge of operating systems. Then you have security who jumps in, who are more often than not, the last ones to know anything. And of course, that’s why we have all of these security breaches, it’s because at the last minute, security gets added on as an afterthought,” Eversmann said. “You have all of these different groups that for the past 20 years have been used to maintaining their silence. They’re in charge of some specific thing, and that’s the way it is. They’re not going to let anybody else touch it.”
But knocking down those silos and fostering collaboration is where Red Hat excels. In fact, that’s the whole concept behind one of its flagship open source solutions.
“Openshift, Red Hat’s container management platform, provides a solution to work together and deliver faster,” Eversmann said. “It’s all about combining the functions of infrastructure and development, resulting in application and infrastructure teams working together, to get software to market faster, delivering web applications to citizens and students faster, whether you’re working for a government or an educational institution.”
Once those silos are knocked down and the different teams are collaborating instead of being fragmented, governments and higher education institutions can focus on improving their missions. Eversmann said these can include things like Departments of Motor Vehicles that want to cut lines, city transportation departments that want to fill potholes faster, and universities that want to streamline admissions, registrations and payments for students and parents.
But that’s where they run into another familiar challenge. State and local governments can actually have even more trouble hiring than federal agencies, because while neither can compete with the private sector in pay, federal agencies do have larger budgets in that area. So how do you recruit and retain top talent when you can’t compete in pay? Eversmann said governments need to give people something fun to do instead.
“For geeks, fun and interesting means cutting edge and modern,” Eversmann said. “And the nice thing is that we’re at a point where some of the hottest solutions, some of the most modern technologies are actually targeted at saving money.”
Enter Ansible, Red Hat’s automation solution. Ansible helps automate repetitive, monotonous tasks like positioning servers, deploying software updates, and changing user passwords.
Many states are currently going through IT consolidation right now, Eversmann shared, where they’re transitioning from each department having its own small IT shop to having one central IT service for the whole state. Automation can help with that process, because each small IT shop has its own slightly different way of doing things, all of which have to be reconciled when consolidating to a centralized agency.
“Different individuals who actually have the expertise, and the in-depth knowledge about each department can write that automation, by sitting down and writing the processes out in what Ansible calls a playbook,” Eversmann said. “Those playbooks can then be put into a central system where anybody can go in and click a link, answer some questions and kick the process off. It doesn’t need to be that one person who knows that one little trick on how to do that one thing for that one department.”
And never mind that common refrain about automation taking jobs away.
“In IT, we already have people whose workloads are 150%-200% of what a normal workload should be,” Eversmann said. “So automation isn’t about laying people off and saving money that way. It’s about enabling the workforce.”