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Cloudy With A Chance of Innovation: The Forecast For Government

“It is no longer a question of if to do the cloud. The decision has been made. Now it’s a question of how to use cloud effectively.”

- Kevin Jackson, Vice President and General Manager, NJVC

In the past 10 years, we have seen government agencies transformed by previously unimaginable technologies, such as mobile, GIS, ECM, and analytics. Today, another technology is emerging to alter information technology in government: Cloud computing.

GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER teamed up with Brocade to put together a panel of experts on cloud computing in government.

You can listen to the full recap here.

The panelists agreed that cloud is already changing government. Specifically, budget allocations, productivity, procurement and acquisitions, and security are already being revolutionized by cloud. Here’s how:

  • Budget: “These are complex times for government,” stated Dorobek at the beginning of the chat. As federal employees deal with shutdowns, furloughs, and budget sequesters, cost-saving solutions are the only solutions. One of cloud’s biggest draws is the reduction in cost. “Budgets slashed by 75% can still use the cloud,” stated Jim Sweeney, President and CTO of V3 Systems. Before cloud, Jackson shared, “We were unable to keep doing what we’re doing with huge budget costs.” Cloud reduces costs by sharing hardware, eliminating expensive servers and data centers, and lowering personnel costs.
  • Productivity: While cloud may have begun as a way to “do more with less,” cloud is not only about savings. Cloud technology allows for better service delivery, access to data, and reliability. “The beauty of the cloud is that you can tailor it to whatever your agency needs,” said Pat Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst at GovLoop. This unique feature of cloud directly contributes to individual and agency productivity.

Jackson stated that cloud can increase productivity through three features: agility, parallel processes, and globalization. “Agility means that whatever you do on the cloud platform can be re-evaluated on a daily or even hourly basis,” Jackson said. Parallel processes allows diverse tasks to be performed simultaneously, a tactic already leveraged successfully by Google. In addition, the global nature of cloud allows for maximum accessibility. Finally, cloud allows you to download only the data you need in the moment from the server, instead of operating with terrabytes of useless data on your hardware at all times. “This selective pull increases system capabilities,” Jackson added.

  • Procurement and Acquisitions: Cloud has completely transformed the acquisitions and procurement process. First, agencies do not have to worry about vendor lock-in. Platforms as a Service (PaaS) allows for systems to be switched over to a different cloud provider with few system compatibility costs.

Second, cloud has created a more competitive market for system integrators, lowering costs and offering better products. Instead of the same few IT contractors gaining iron-clad government contracts, “New players that are cloud brokers are entering the market and taking business away from large federal systems integrators,” said Sweeney. Smaller and newer systems integrators can become instantly competitive by offering cloud-based frameworks. For example, IBM and Amazon Web Services are currently battling for a lucrative CIA cloud-computing contract. “Before cloud, a fairly new player like Amazon winning over IBM for a contract like this was unheard of.”Additionally, according to Fiorenza, “Cloud provides access to different licenses and software,” giving agencies more options.

Third, CIOs and IT departments do not have the unique privilege to choose products. Earlier, Fiorenza stated that cloud computing can be easily tailored to agency needs. Cloud can also be tailored to individual employee needs. For example, the popular personal cloud program DropBox is technically prohibited in government, however because employees find DropBox helps them perform their tasks better, some employees work around IT and CIO recommendations and use DropBox. As Sweeney pointed out, “If IT is not going to provide me the service I need to do my job, then I’m going to find a way to go around you.” Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies also give employees more independence. When it comes to acquisitions, CIOs and IT departments cannot always call the shots. To prevent unsecure work-arounds, procurement and acquisitions must reflect the needs of individual employees and the options possible with cloud.

  • Security: Most cite “security” as the reason some agencies are wary of cloud computing. If deployed correctly, however, cloud can provide better security than previous systems. Because cloud’s storage is dispersed and backed up, it can be less vulnerable and more reliable. The General Services Administration (GSA) recently issued guidelines specific to cloud security, which Sweeney found very helpful. These guidelines, FEDRAMP, create security requirements for all agencies. “Security had in the past been driven by the individual agency or department. They decided what’s important,” said Jackson. “This has been one way of maintaining SILOS across agencies and department. FEDRAMP breaks that model by establishing a mandatory baseline across the government. It didn’t say agencies can’t set their own rules, but it set a minimum.” FEDRAMP provides the security assurance agencies need to protect critical data in cloud-based systems. Sweeney hopes these security guarantees encourage agencies “to take better advantage of public clouds.” With security in place, Sweeney adds, agencies can see even larger savings and more benefits as they transition more into the cloud.

Have more to add? Share your thoughts in GovLoop’s Cloud Survey. We want to hear from you!

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