It's a new era for government. In the wake of COVID-19, public sector organizations are making aggressive cloud migration plans to develop reliable new services faster—while scaling them efficiently—to meet the needs of the public.
The Government of Canada is committed to making digital transformation and application migration to the cloud a priority, as evidenced in its Digital Operations Strategic Plan (DOSP) 2021-2024, where cloud-based solutions are prioritized.
While federal departments and agencies are executing their cloud journeys, they face unique challenges that can potentially impact project delivery and decision-making speed. This is due to rigorous control gates for reviews at various stages of the cloud project life.
One powerful way to overcome these challenges is through agile governance, an innovative approach to project governance that enables government departments and agencies to respond quickly to changes along their cloud journey and continuously improve while respecting the need for policy compliance.
Rethinking waterfall project governance
The Government of Canada and other public sector organizations operate within complex environments that can be challenging when governing IT. Typically, to manage both governance and complex environments, federal government departments and public sector organizations have implemented project gating frameworks that apply a waterfall approach to project management and governance oversight.
This oversight allows organizations to monitor project delivery, manage changes, and identify and address risks that emerge along the project lifecycle, while continuously ensuring its viability and alignment with its business and IT strategy.
Cloud migration projects differ from traditional IT projects because they involve many applications and application 'bundles'. Each has unique considerations, dependencies, and requirements that cannot be easily addressed with a gated waterfall approach designed to develop a single solution.
"To deliver better digital services, we need modern IT infrastructure and systems. We have made progress in rationalizing applications, but GC departments and agencies still support more than 7,000 business applications (down from 8,900 in 2018), including some that enable the delivery of critical services. The health of GC applications varies, and they sit on aging infrastructure. A single system failure can impede our ability to deliver benefits and services in times of need, which can erode public trust."
Laura Spriggs, BDO's Vice President, Management Consulting, Strategy, and Operations, says: “While there is some discretion in the number of gates a department can establish within their project management framework, most public sector organizations, including the Government of Canada, have mandatory gating policies in place.
“Migration to the cloud introduces 'multiples' of new scope elements that must be considered,” says Spriggs. “For example, varying security requirements and access arrangements, the need for diverse new skillsets, large volume data migration and data sovereignty considerations, and the introduction of new roles and organizational culture. Some of these elements may be common across applications and application bundles, and others may be specific to a few. Juggling these differences while trying to move forward at an accelerated pace requires a rethink of traditional waterfall project governance and gating approaches.”
The traditional approach is to take the complete scope of the project through phases in series, ensuring 100% of the phase and gate requirements are complete before moving into the next phase. However, this can consume valuable time and effort creating and discussing documentation that may not be relevant for some applications or ‘bundles' and create a delay in waiting for everything to be complete, regardless of relevance, to satisfy the pre-defined governance needs to 'pass the gate'.
So, what's the solution?
The need for agile gating
Instead of working in a linear, sequential manner, public sector organizations embarking on a cloud journey should consider adopting an agile approach to gating.
Based on the agile management philosophy first popularized by software and technology companies, agile gating allows an organization to move forward quickly with its migration to the cloud while still meeting policy requirements.
“We are also working to make project design and implementation more agile by using modern approaches, by focusing on product management and by better balancing oversight and accountability.” (Digital Operations Strategic Plan 2021-2024)
Agile gating works by bundling or grouping applications with common elements so that teams can work simultaneously on different bundles within the project that are at various stages of readiness from a gating perspective, as Spriggs explains in the following example:
"Suppose you have a portfolio of hundreds of applications, and you organize it into a project consisting of a dozen groups or bundles of applications migrating to the cloud. However, they include a mix of SaaS bundles, PaaS bundles, IaaS bundles, and potential specific solutions or environments within the bundle, such as a Dynamics 365 environment. The composition of applications in each bundle may not require all the gate deliverables the organization's project management framework calls for. This provides the opportunity to scale the gating requirements to suit each bundle so that less complex bundles can be completed more quickly and with less effort than those with more complex applications."
Bundling applications allows the organization to move different bundles forward at different paces based on readiness while not having to achieve 100% precision for every application in the project before moving forward. By adopting “mini gates” for each application bundle, gating requirements are still being met but the organization can move the overall project forward and realize the benefits from early migration of application bundles that are ready sooner than others.
Getting it right: key considerations
If you're ready to migrate to the cloud, you might be thinking about the best way to do it. While a lighter approach can help you gain agility, efficiency, and scalability and lower your overall administrative burdens, there are some key considerations to factor in, including:
- bundling 'like' applications maximize common strategies, complexities, requirements, and dependencies;
- ensuring clarity in the deliverables and gating requirements that apply to each bundle based on the applications housed within it, ensuring the focus is only on relevant and necessary ones and permitting unnecessary ones to be omitted;
- resetting your governance framework to permit fast-tracking bundles through mini-gate reviews of their planning and execution phases—focusing only on relevant deliverables and gating requirements of each bundle (as noted above)—while concurrently working through more complex bundles allows for quick wins and early benefits; and
- executing each bundle through a series of iterations with short durations—each focusing on a specific aspect of the migration and having a pre-defined goal—since having short iterations applies a fail-fast approach to fix issues earlier and expedite the bundle completion.
How BDO can help
When it comes to the public sector and digital transformation, you are not alone. At BDO, we understand the sector's demands and adhere to traditional governance requirements. Our experts are on hand to arrange a consultation with you to discuss your cloud journey and the current challenges you face with agile execution balanced with traditional public sector governance requirements. In addition, we'll provide a snapshot of how other departments, agencies, and ministries are overcoming these challenges and outline the steps that we can take to move forward together.
For more information, contact:
Laura Spriggs, Vice President Management Consulting, Strategy and Operations
Mariam Salib, Senior Manager, Head of Project Management Office
Rishan Lye, Partner, Advisory Services, Technology