https://bpdtsinsights.blog.gov.uk/2020/02/12/improving-digital-services-with-devops/

Improving digital services with DevOps

Public sector organisations are shifting resources to cloud computing, DevOps, and new open-source and collaboration technologies to support large scale digital transformations. The move will enable government departments and agencies to make headway in 4 key areas:

  • meeting customer expectations
  • delivering projects on time
  • delivering projects cost-effectively
  • maintaining service quality

What's DevOps got to do with it?

DevOps is an approach to IT delivery that combines people, practices, and tools to break down silos between development and operations teams. Amazon Web Services (AWS) describes DevOps as the "combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organisation's ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity." DevOps methodologies enable organisations to evolve and improve products at a faster pace than organisations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) understands better digital services in government means better public services. Tapping into the strengths of a fast-growing team of digital experts, BPDTS is helping the DWP transform how they work, how to organise themselves, and how they serve UK citizens.

Deliver better services at pace and scale

Delivering meaningful change, at speed and scale, to the people who need it most is what BPDTS does. Our DevOps community is working at the cutting edge of service delivery. The DevOps approach is pivotal in making service delivery a reality, putting new services into the hands of UK citizens, including some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Build repeatable, reliable automation

Phil Harle is a Lead DevOps Engineer at BPDTS. Phil’s been working with the Department for Work and Pensions for 2 years, helping to embed DevOps working practices and tooling.

Phil Harle, Lead DevOps Engineer at BPDTS Ltd.
Phil Harle, Lead DevOps Engineer.

Manual processes are like a red flag to a bull for Phil; they are a challenge to tackle! Automation is essential to developing software faster and more efficiently. DevOps practices aim for 100% automation. If there's a reason why automating a process introduces risk, in Phil's view, "we need to build better automation or consider redesigning processes, before introducing any human stage-gates in the automation." The objective is to eliminate any manual processes/runbooks by having repeatable, reliable automation.

Phil holds a Bachelor's degree in Computing and a Master's degree in Technology Management. Phil's post-graduate dissertation focussed on developing technology strategies to support the adoption of cloud computing.

In our On the Spot interview, we get to learn more about Phil:

Tell us about your role.

As Lead DevOps Engineer, I work across several digital projects to design, implement, and embed the technology and processes to support and enable a DevOps culture within BPDTS (& DWP). Outside of my projects, I also work at a community level to evangelise DevOps concepts, develop our talent within the organisation, and the recruitment of external engineers into BPDTS.

How did you end up here?

I originally started working with DWP via a private consultancy, then as a civil servant, before joining BPDTS in late 2018. I've worked across many sectors, yet have spent most of my career working with or for the public sector (mainly local and national government, and higher education).

As frustrating as some things can seem at times, particularly when compared to the private sector, I've a strong affinity to the public sector and of having a sense of 'purpose.' In some jobs, it's easy to feel disconnected from your 'customers.' For example, implementing one service on a cloud platform often feels similar to the next. However, at BPDTS, you're never too far removed from knowing you're building digital services used by 20 million UK citizens, often during critical times in their lives.

Who or what inspires you and your work?

I relish a challenge. The ability to earn a living through solving problems with technology is a perfect match for me.

The hive-mind inspires me. I often find the best solutions to problems come from the collective thoughts of individuals. To quote Steve Jobs, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

Throughout my career, I've been fortunate enough to work with brilliant, experienced people who have helped me learn and develop. To reciprocate, I take pleasure in supporting others – at all levels. You gain an immense sense of satisfaction, watching someone develop their ideas and extend their experience. It's a great way to give back to our organisation.

What's been your favourite BPDTS project, and why?

It’s a project related to Real Time Earnings. The service provides transformation and calculation logic, storage, and interfaces for numerous services. In transforming the service, we fulfilled all of our teams' ambitious engineering goals. We built a lot of reusable pipelines and cloud infrastructure-as-code. We also made a significant achievement in implementing CI/CD that was approved and supported by our Site Reliability Engineers (SREs). Taking the original 'legacy' team on the DevOps transformation journey was particularly satisfying for me. It was an excellent opportunity to tap into and continue to develop our talent pool.

How do you keep your DevOps skills up to date?

Our engineering community stays up-to-date with the latest tech trends using online and face-to-face modules. Access to learning sites Pluralsight, Udemy, and other online resources ensure our skills stay fresh and balanced. Our engineers also meet to share best practices, networking across teams, and government agencies at DevOps meet-ups, lightning talks, and roadshows with external vendors such as Amazon Web Service (AWS), GitLab, and App Dynamics attend. Additionally, we are encouraged to go to different events where companies like Red Hat, MongoDB, Oracle, and Microsoft attend.

What would you say to a DevOps professional looking to join BPDTS?

It’s time to change how you think about public sector IT projects. At BPDTS, our pace is fast, and everyone here is immensely talented. Working in our engineering community, you will have the chance to apply problem-solving skills across a range of projects, broaden your experience, and flex your DevOps muscle in multiple areas.

Describe your perfect day.

All good days start with a strong black coffee. Then, as an avid road cyclist, I can't beat a day out riding in the Northumberland countryside with a few rolling hills thrown in to test the legs. Food and cycling go hand in hand, so a stop off for mid-ride bacon sandwich or a wedge of cake would be next.

Back home, a bit of relaxation with the family watching the latest Netflix series. Then, as a geek at heart, I'd have to squeeze in a bit of time on the command line, probably working on some unnecessary(*) home automation projects.

(*) so I'm told!

Any recommendations on what to read?

If you're still puzzled about what all this DevOps stuff is about, I'd thoroughly recommend reading The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim. It's a non-technical novel suitable for everyone. I guarantee the book will present you with a good few 'lightbulb moments.'

 

Learn more

Stay up to date with what’s happening at BPDTS. Connect with us on LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter.

You can connect with Phil through LinkedIn.

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