Rhode Island turns to agile development to reform IT

Rhode Islands information technology department started encouraging its staff to use agile development last year as it updates its IT.

Thom Guertin, the states chief information officer and chief digital officer, has been leading the charge.Since he first came to the state in 2012, he’s been encouraging state IT works to use private sector practices to build better systems.

Weve been spending a lot of time with the directors of the agencies to try to get them on board with a new way of thinking, Guertin told StateScoop in a video interview at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear conference in Baltimore. [Were] trying to chunk projects into smaller, more tangible pieces.

Now, nearly two-thirds of Guertins team is focused on agile development a way of quickly rolling out applications and services in smaller pieces and building new business processes.

We deliver more because we do it in more sizeable chunks, Guertin said. Were not moving down a path of classic waterfall projects where we wont see any test results for multiple years.

Guertin, whose previousexperience comes from developing and managing technology systems for The New York Times and the Boston Globe, said its not easy to come in and change the way government operates.

Its really been a big focus of mine to test and try and iterate, Guertin said. The culture of government isnt particularly one where you can try and fail and reintroduce, but weve been making strides in that area in Rhode Island.

Guertin also sees opportunities for traditional state IT workers and projects to benefit from the fail-fast approach agile brings.

We get people to think about about minimum viable products, rolling things out, learning from it, and if you fail, you fail, but at least youre learning at the same time, Guertin said. Youre not investing as much time and money, youre testing in a few different fronts to see what succeeds.