In a previous blog post, we discussed a quick overview of Continuous Integration and Deployment of .NET applications using Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS). This involved building and deploying regular old .NET applications with VSTS—something that we would definitely expect a Microsoft service to handle. However, there is some lesser-known support that VSTS has for other frameworks, including Java. The Microsoft VSTS website even has a portal page proclaiming their Java support: “Love Java? So do we!

VSTS support for Java build frameworks such as Maven and Ant came in handy for AIS recently, as we were tasked with developing some new features for an older Java desktop application for a federal client. And I will have to say that all of the VSTS tools for Java applications worked flawlessly. We were able to easily add the Java project source code to a Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) repository hosted online in VSTS. Oracle even has an extension for integrating with a TFVC workspace—allowing us to check in changes right from the JDeveloper IDE. Read More…

AIS recently worked with the General Services Administration (GSA) Technology Transformation Services Division, better known as 18F.  The engagement involved working with 18F to digitize the Department of Labor’s Section 14(c) certification application process (part of the Fair Labor Standards Act). This is currently a paper-based process that 18F hoped to modernize as an intuitive, online application…and to do it using agile methodologies.

AIS was tasked with building the first version of the digital form within a 60-day period of performance – much shorter than typical federal contracts.  AIS pulled together a multi-disciplinary team comprised of user researchers, designers, and front- and back-end web developers to work closely with 18F and the Department of Labor (DOL) Product Owner. The team built the entire form with complex validation along with a registration and login and an administrative section to process the form applications. They performed multiple usability tests with actual end users, and followed 18F’s principles of working in the open using a public GitHub repository. All User Stories and discussion threads were thoroughly documented in that repository’s issues list.

AIS was able to work together with many divisions inside DOL to make this happen.  We addressed security concerns by the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and worked with the CIO office to coordinate delivery of the application and a testing and staging environment for deployment. We also set up a Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment process so that multiple DOL stakeholders could stay abreast of what was happening and exercise the existing application state.  We were even able to address legal concerns with testing by external citizens by getting signed consent forms for testing and recording the sessions.

The collaboration was so successful that our client wrote their own blog post on the project, detailing exactly “how government and private industry can work together using agile methodologies to produce great results.” You can read it here. 

These types of successful, agile engagements break down the myths that software development for the government needs to take months (or even years). Government can and will move faster, and after every small win like this project, the traditional methods of building software and procuring software development are changing across the industry.  This bodes well not just for the citizens who need to interact with these digital services… but also for saving our tax dollars.

I have been trying lots of new things since I got on board with AIS. From MDX to PowerShell to MVC. My newest endeavor was Azure. I was initially intimidated by the amount of time I would have to spend getting to know the setup before I could do something simple on it, but I have to say it was about the easiest thing I’ve tried so far. Congrats to the folks at Microsoft for creating something so useful that “just works,” even if you are the person who always tries to make things too difficult (me).

I got my first website up and running on Azure in about one hour, including migrating my database. It was so easy I had to share a simplified version of my experience.

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