Building software before testing is a lot like predicting the outcome of an NFL season before it starts, said Greg Godbout, chief technology officer at the Environmental Protection Agency: It’s a “meaningless” exercise.
“We need to play the game,” he said. “We need to put code in the user’s hands and start iterating it and figure out where it goes.”
Agencies need to assess what resources they have — and suss out some of the unknowns — before they start bringing in vendors to work on a new project, he said.
Godbout made the comments during FedScoop’s 7th Annual Lowering the Cost of Government with IT Summit Thursday. Several leaders at the event advocated that agencies tap technology to make it easier and more efficient for agencies to meet their goals.
During a presentation titled “Custom Software Solution for 1/2 the Cost,” Godbout talked about how testing systems has already made a difference in agencies. In his previous role as executive director at 18F, Godbout said his team worked with an agency that was poised to spend more than $40 million to rewrite a legacy system. The agency had assumed their old system wouldn’t work when they moved to the cloud, but officials hadn’t tested it, Godbout said.
“They ultimately were able to knock [that estimate] down to $10 million because they actually decided, ‘let’s spend two weeks and actually test it,’” he said. “And the legacy system worked. They could wrap an API around it, and it worked perfectly fine.”
Throughout his talk, Godbout laid out several tenants of digital services that he encourages at his own agency, including using user-centered design, replacing legacy systems with platforms that interact with all agency systems and reusing code. He also told government IT leaders to embrace the “lean movement,” which encourages removing unnecessary features and code. “If you can’t tell me what functionality you removed, rather than added over the past year, then you’re not doing ‘lean,'” he said.’
But one of his underlining messages was that agencies needed to become “system integrators” that are responsible for bringing together all parts of a project or a system. Agencies have a mandate to take ownership of their systems, he said, and should not cede that responsibility to vendors.
In all, he said that agencies need to ensure they’re delivering technology that helps agencies serve the public better.
“Essentially the federal government, we all live in a digital era,” he said. “So if we’re not responsive to the environment around us, I think it just goes against the very definition of government. Certainly not a government for the people and by the people.”