Embracing Automation and Open Source Tools

THE OPEN SOURCE MOVEMENT HAS LONG BEEN EMBRACED BY HIGH-TECH COMPANIES, and subsequently the rest of the private sector. However, it remains somewhat of a novelty in the public sector. Federal agencies are currently making progress toward adopting open source, cloud, and continuous integration and delivery automation. The Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been a trailblazer in the public sector—rapidly updating their acquisition and governance strategies to enable the adoption of open source technologies and agile methodologies. In its quest to modernize its legacy Verification Information System—a composite information system that incorporates data from various Department of Homeland Security databases—the USCIS sought VariQ’s assistance in maintaining and improving system functionality and stability.

The Challenge

VariQ took over the Operations and Maintenance contract for the Verification Information System (VIS)—a large system with millions of lines of code, minimally documented, and built over 12 years within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When VariQ began work, production deployments involved hundreds of manual steps and took more than 12 hours to complete, and 10+ engineers, developers, and testers to support. This limitation constrained the agency’s ability to roll out new features to the public to only once per quarter and was slowing the modernization effort. Our client challenged the VariQ team to identify a solution that would reduce deployment duration time and allow deployments to occur every two to three weeks.

The Solution

The VariQ team conducted a technical assessment and a root-cause analysis of the bottlenecks in the development process. The prevalent theme was that outdated versions of proprietary tools as well as outdated practices (notably manual testing) were resulting in low velocity and extended development cycle times. VariQ proposed retooling the development shop with mostly open source tools. In addition, the VariQ team adopted DevOps best practices to increase the speed of new feature delivery to the end customers, while saving the government time and money.

The Outcome

The investment of time in developing and setting up new open source tools achieved tangible benefits. The 12-hour, 10-person deployment time was slashed down to a 4-hour, 4-person cycle. Production deployments currently occur every 2-3 weeks and may be conducted after hours any day of the week.

The customer experienced a 33% reduction in operations costs. More importantly, the cycle times of feature delivery were reduced, allowing the pace of modernizing the legacy system to proceed according to the agency’s objectives. As a result, the USCIS received two Igniting Innovation Awards (2016, 2017, American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council), and gave recognition to the VariQ team for its role in this success.