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FDA CIO: Agile Is Simply Good Business

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Agencies afraid of agile might find it’s more of a strategy than a set of new technologies—at least, that’s how the Food and Drug Administration is approaching it, according to Chief Information Officer Todd Simpson.

Agile—often a term for a project management methodology that breaks large projects into smaller “sprints”—is “mostly culture.” CIO shops can begin by “understanding what you have,” and making sure all IT systems have proper authorities to operate, he explained at a GovernmentCIO Magazine event in Washington last week.

“It’s really a simple thing, to manage the business like you care about the business, and not to be in this reactive mode,” Simpson said. “What we really need to do is bring a little bit more order to the way we do development.”

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The cultural battle isn’t an easy one, especially when federal leadership often seems to think “we’re not like the private sector, we can’t run the government like a business,” he said.

Certain new technology can help agencies “get closer” to private-sector efficiency, including cloud-based platforms developers can use to build out and test new products for federal agencies. The FDA’s CIO shop has been on a “cloud roadshow,” demonstrating those services to other FDA components and ways they can “leverage the cloud and build a pathway to mitigate our legacy systems and do new development.”

What’s more essential is reorganizing development teams. “Looking for teams to be built around a [specific system] perpetuates that legacy application model, where you have these monolithic applications around for 20-30 years…[and] a bunch of feds that are going to be there for 30 years, no vested interest to change the technology.”

A better system might be to “just move away from the team approach” and focus on building a robust testing environment and a more efficient pipeline for new products, he said.

Simpson said he may also make some changes within the chief technology officer’s team, including to add innovation-themed projects back into the CTO’s purview. “I’m realigning everything,” he said, adding that previously the CTO’s responsibilities were focused on “infrastructure stabilization.”

Now, Simpson said, that team will focus more on projects dedicated to developing entirely new systems and deciding how to govern those programs.

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