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Tuesday, June 6, 2014

The Federal Government Journey to Cloud Computing: Lessons Learned

[Republished from”On The FrontLines” magazine “Cloud Computing in Government: Lesson’s Learned” issue. Download the full 20 page issue online at https://digital.onthefrontlines.net/i/319551 )

In February 2011, Vivek Kundra announced the “Cloud First” policy across the US Government. The directive, issued through the Office of Management and Budget, required agencies to give cloud technology first priority in developing IT projects. He also described cloud computing as a “10 year journey”. According to a Deltek report, federal agency spending on cloud computing will grow from $2.3 billion in fiscal 2013 to $6.1 billion by fiscal 2018. This forecast clearly raises the importance of understanding what has happened over the past few years. In my opinion, the Top 5 most important lessons learned are:

  1. When selecting the appropriate deployment model (Public, Private, Hybrid or Community) don’t reflexively pick private as the “obvious low risk choice”. Private cloud with no resource sharing doesn’t deliver the promised cost savings. Do the math, do the science and do the engineering. Develop a real business case. Start with functional requirements related to the mission. If the numbers don’t make sense, don’t do it
  2. Failure to modify business processes to take advantage of the parallel nature of cloud computing platforms will lead to minimal improvements in those processes. Government IT managers must accept that cloud computing means the purchase of a service, not the purchase of technology. This usually represents a fundamental change in how technology is acquired and managed.
  3. Treating your cloud transition as only an IT project is a big mistake. Business/Mission owners and Procurement officials must be intimately involved. According to an Accenture report sponsored by the Government Business Council, the challenges federal agencies have experienced in cloud development have restrained deployments to date, but alleviating these impediments should spur adoption. Agencies looking to cloud infrastructure need to develop standardized procurement requirement statements and SLAs that address both cyber security and operational issues at a level of detail to minimize interpretation issues.
  4. Cloud transitions have significant education and cultural challenges. Cloud transition strategies also require a robust change management plan. Change is hard, and I think change in government is harder. So I think having a well formed plan for communication and change management is incredibly important. Implementing cloud-based best practices requires an immense and continuous effort to ensure that new practices are embraced.
  5. Federal agencies need to improve the maturity of their respective enterprise architectures lack of which makes cloud transitions difficult. This will require focused agency leadership. GAO’s experience has shown that attempting to modernize and evolve IT environments without an architecture to guide and constrain investments results in operations and systems that are duplicative, not well integrated, costly to maintain, and ineffective in supporting mission goals. 

The road ahead still has storm clouds and heavy rain, but all in all, we’ve made a good start.

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