Agencies Eye the Benefits of Cloud Beyond Cost Savings

In the early days of cloud adoption — circa 2010 — much of the focus was around cash-strapped agencies saving money by embracing a different form of computing. But fast-forward to the current day, and you’ll find that conversation has shifted from being purely cost-driven to now focusing on how the cloud and managed services help enable agencies’ missions.

At a recent event hosted by Unisys, AWS and GovLoop, “Reaching New Heights: Accelerating Your Mission-Critical Projects to the Cloud Securely,” a speaker from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) held up his agency as an example. Jim McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Targeting and Analysis Systems Program Directorate at CBP’s Office of Information and Technology, said the agency was congressionally mandated to develop a biometric entry and exit system. To fulfill this requirement, CBP is deploying cloud-based technologies at various airports to verify travelers’ identities — both when they arrive and leave the United States — by matching a traveler to the document they are presenting.

CBP could never verify passengers with such fidelity and speed — think milliseconds — if they were stuck using a traditional, legacy data center, McLaughlin said. Tapping into the capabilities of AWS cloud has also translated into big benefits for the airline companies. With facial recognition, a passenger’s face essentially becomes the boarding pass, which means fewer holdups as they board the plan. On average, facial recognition shaved an hour off boarding and disembarking, particularly for international flights, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin was joined on the panel by other government experts:

  • Usha Naik, Enterprise Solutions Manager, Surface Transportation Board
  • Sagar Samant, Associate Chief Information Officer Acquisition Information Technology Services, GSA
  • Keith Trippie , Founder and CEO, The Trippie Group LLC

The event focused on accelerating mission-critical projects to the cloud securely. McLaughlin was joined by other government experts on a panel about innovation in the cloud and government success stories.

“We do a lot of things at big scale,” McLaughlin said. “For us, the cloud is really improving time to market.”

For the Surface Transportation Board, an independent agency charged with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers, managed cloud services were key to supplementing its small IT staff.

“There is only so much we can do in-house,” Naik said. “We [have] some very old solutions that we are replacing.”

The agency has already adopted cloud email and is now looking to replace a case management system. Cloud allows the agency to adopt new capabilities faster and securely, Naik said. In terms of maturity, the Surface Transportation Board is in the middle of its cloud journey and is eyeing other opportunities.

“Anything that we can do in the cloud, we are trying to do,” Naik noted.

The cloud represents a paradigm shift, Samant said. GSA was an early cloud adopter, collaborating with Unisys to migrate 17,000 users to Google Apps for Government in 2011.

Samant reflected on GSA’s cloud journey by noting that it requires a change in business processes, and the IT department has to articulate the business value to its internal customers. Cloud has enabled users to have a say in how they build business apps, and they don’t have to worry about infrastructure. It isn’t all about costs, he said.

His advice for agencies starting out with cloud: Begin with commodity services, then shared services and finally business applications.

Trippie, a former senior executive within the Homeland Security Department’s CIO office, has seen government cloud adoption evolve from its infancy, where there weren’t many policies pushing adoption, to the present day, where there are external and internal demands for agencies’ business models to keep pace with the speed of mission requirements.

He shared these lessons learned for agencies that are transitioning to managed cloud services:

1. Whatever your current business process is, keep in mind that processes must change in the cloud if you’re going to take advantage of the benefits.

2. You need to put some capital into training your staff. For example, if someone has been a systems administrator for 20 years, consider retraining that person to monitor and oversee the performance of cloud infrastructure services.

3. Leaders, particularly department heads, have a responsibility to require that their agency shifts from inefficient delivery of services to more nimble models. Doing so will help to expedite cloud adoption.

Ultimately, unless your agency has big workloads that require more time to prepare for cloud migrations, there is no reason that most non-military, intelligence or mission applications should not be in the cloud or have a path to the cloud, Trippie said.

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