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Straight Talk Technology

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The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Victoria, Australia, has been going from strength to strength in delivering timely business innovation using its Platform+Agile approach to systems development.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson, DHHS CIO, explains, "The key insight is that you cannot be sustainably, repeatably agile unless you start with a proven, scalable platform. The platform includes a bundle of cloud services, procurement arrangements, security templates, DevOps methods, and reusable microservices. It constitutes the proven and repeatable way that our in-house teams develop and deploy new solutions. Each new application leverages the platform, learnings, and reusable elements of those that went before. This is just common sense, but it is the opposite of the way many public sector agencies approach ICT projects. The first project is hard, but the 25th is (relatively) easy because it uses a proven formula for success."

At the heart of the platform strategy is the understanding that ground-up development work is time-consuming and expensive and carries a substantial ongoing maintenance burden. To alleviate these issues, DHHS has selected several application-platform-as-a-service (aPaaS) products as preferred technology platforms for bespoke systems development. These offer high-level functionality that significantly reduces the amount of code to be written; skills to manage the infrastructure and platform software are not required in-house. Furthermore, aPaaS is available on a consumption basis, so scaling to meet demand becomes a straightforward financial decision with minimal procurement-related implementation delay.

To deliver rapid business value across a broad range of business needs, Platform+Agile has evolved to comprise six main elements. The two initial elements that coined the name for the methodology – platform and agile – are still the foundations on which everything rests. Alongside these, four more elements have emerged as critical enablers of rapid, high-quality systems development:

  • a multiyear investment-portfolio approach to project funding, which allows individual initiatives to receive tranches of funding aligned to business needs, rather than the annual budget cycle

  • pragmatic solution architectures that deliver incrementally on the big picture, using mechanisms that balance immediate need and long-term benefits, which are embedded in the scaled agile framework (SAFe)

  • the leveraging of panel supply to supplement internal development capability and capacity, so that projects are not delayed due to internal resource constraints

  • proactive and transparent communication with project stakeholders and the wider DHHS community.

"The biggest benefit of the Platform+Agile approach is that it increases the cadence and momentum of project delivery," says Hodgkinson. "Once executives can see new systems being delivered incrementally in a reliable and disciplined manner, then two things happen. The first is that it increases their trust in the process, and therefore it empowers creativity because people start to 'lean in' when they trust that useful results will be delivered. The second is that it starts to attract funding. There is always discretionary funding in large organizations. Executives, however, only volunteer it when they can see that it will be put to good use. This approach has re-educated executives that it is a 'safe career move' to lead a digital transformation project – and that it can even be fun and rewarding!"

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