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InfoQ Homepage News How the USCIS Bridged the Divide between IT and the Business at DOES 2019

How the USCIS Bridged the Divide between IT and the Business at DOES 2019

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The USCIS runs the largest immigration service in the world. On an average day, they adjudicate more than 26,000 requests for various immigration benefits, and they verify the employment eligibility of more than 80,000 new hires through the e-verify system, and naturalize roughly 2,000 new citizens. In 2018 they naturalized 757,000 new Americans and accepted more than 600,000 new lawful permanent residents.

A USCIS team who led their largest IT transformation program to date presented their journey at the 2019 DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES 2019). In 2017, they embarked on their digitalization journey with the goal to optimize their adjudication processes. The most critical problem they wanted to solve was the amount of paper they process everyday using manual processes. One of the challenges they had to overcome was getting all the key stakeholders on the same page. They have multiple groups of stakeholders invested in the success of their digitalization, such as the internal users, externals applicants and their representatives, and governmental bodies overseeing compliance to regulations and investments. Each group had their own requests and priorities.

When they started their transformation journey, they partnered closely with the business, but the relationship felt like "an arranged marriage". On the technology side they struggled with silos leading to many handoffs and long wait time to receive clear requirements from the business. They were still working in a hybrid fashion, using schedule and date-driven releases, and had a low development maturity. The absence of a clear common vision and little transparency between IT and the business led to an overall low trust. Because the business didn't fund IT, they felt that they had no control on the outcomes they were getting from IT.

Their first transformational episode faced various challenges and hit a few roadblocks. The technology team was challenged by a low confidence in success, unmanaged technical debt, and an overall blaming organizational culture, which led to a widespread frustration on the business side.

In their second transformation episode, IT and the business partnered closer together to define a common vision and purpose and established a common transformational roadmap. IT reorganized their plan to fully support the business operations and solve real-world problems, which allowed them to progressively earn the business trust through reliability and credibility. IT introduced new tools and practices such as feature toggling, development and test automation, and design and usability testing, while the business also supported the transition to agile and DevOps. They introduced more collaborative ways of identifying requirements with the delivery teams through product discovery workshops, enhanced their communication and supported code changes on the spot. Both organizations progressively supported their culture of experimentation, and explored new ways of collaborating through their end-to-end product development and launch.

According to the USCIS team, these new ways of collaborating between IT and their business partners led to significant business outcomes: since 2017, they delivered more than 17 new products and 40 services and reduced the agency's backlog wait time and decreased their case process time. As they are still improving on their digital journey, they are investing in their DevOps tooling and their DataOps workflow to gain actionable insights.

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