Cloud: Government’s Best Friend

I remember it like it was yesterday. August 9, 2001, the day that my dog Dexter became the newest – and cutest – member of our family. I recall cuddling him in my arms as he nuzzled his fuzzy body in my lap on the car ride home. Every fiber in my being rejoiced at this dream come true. I had been waiting for this day my entire life.

It was no easy journey making Dexter my new best friend. Since the moment I could utter words, I painstakingly tried to convince my mother that I needed a dog. I cited examples of how dogs improve human well-being and happiness. I researched every dog breed, read and reread a Simon & Schuster guide to dogs, preparing to make my case. Still, my every attempt at “dog” was met with a resounding “no.”

This resounding “no” also echoes within the walls of government agencies when public sector managers hear the word “cloud.” Many public officials doubt that they are equipped to handle this new computing wonder child. Despite the skepticism, your agency’s cloud adoption journey should not be as laborious as my uphill battle to change my mother’s mind.

GovLoop is here to help. At Wednesday’s event “Innovations that Matter: What Are You Talking About? Cloud Edition,” GovLoop invited three distinguished government and industry cloud experts to calm agency fears and discuss their best practices for implementing cloud at your agency. The panelists included:

  • Paul Brubaker, former Director of Planning and Performance Management, Department of Defense
  • Ira Hoffman, Principal, Government Contracts Law, Offit Kurman, PA; Director, Public Contracting Institute
  • Anil Karmel, Founder & CEO C2Labs and Former Deputy Chief Technology Officer, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)

To start, the panelists discussed the widening gap between cloud technology and cloud policy. Cloud is developing at a much faster rate than the government can produce policy to govern it. Brubaker described the current state of cloud in the government as a “chicken and egg game,” and that sometimes the policies themselves inhibit technological advancements.

Furthermore, there is a misconception in government that policies and guidelines can make cloud risk-free. “There needs to be a knowledge of risk, acceptance of risk and management of risk,” Brubaker said.

Another primary concern involves the declining pool of skilled human capital available to spearhead the government cloud adoption movement. Brubaker pointed out that the current human resources processes are not designed to adequately train individuals for rapid technological advancements.

Karmel echoed this notion and explained that compartmentalization deters agencies’ capabilities of managing risk and threats. “How do you troubleshoot problems when all of your teams are separate?” he asked the audience.

Cloud demands a restructuring of how agencies utilize their available human capital and resources. Karmel recommended these best practices to modify agency work flows:

  1. Develop a matrix organizational structure. With cloud you are responsible for an entire service, not just a server. Cross-agency collaboration is a must.
  2. Implement a mentor-protégé model. IT is moving faster than training is. Learn from those that are leaning forward and ahead of the game.
  3. Don’t lose sight of the business mission. Delivering technology for technology’s sake doesn’t benefit anyone. Always keep the mission in mind.

The panelist also cited security as a top worry amongst public officials. “You can’t talk about cloud without talking about security,” Karmel noted. The first step to an effective security strategy is to understand the value of your agency’s data. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who is using your data?
  2. What data are they trying to use?
  3. Where are both the users and data located?
  4. How are the users trying to access your data?

Once you understand your data and how it moves throughout your agency, build security into your cloud implementation processes. Brubaker noted that while you may not be able to secure all of you data, you could move to a new model that meets security protocols.

Overall, the panelists concluded that the government is shrouded in a cloud of fear and risk-aversion. “It’s a classic example of us getting in the way of ourselves,” Brubaker exclaimed.

To clear the path for cloud adoption, Brubaker, Karmel and Hoffman offered up these best practices to prepare your agency for its cloud transition:

  1. Form small pilot groups and start with low-hanging fruit.
  2. Validate that cloud meets a need in your agency.
  3. Take risks and accept that failure is OK.
  4. Focus on measurable outcomes and collect lessons learned.
  5. Go for total best-value and not cost savings when choosing a provider.

Adopting the cloud does not have to be an uphill battle. With an equipped workforce, acceptance of risk and baked-in security, your agency can flourish with the computing powers cloud has to offer. Cloud has the potential to maximize agency efficiency, streamline processes and leverage data.

Like a dog is to his human companion, cloud can be government’s best friend.

Looking for more best practices on how to implementing cloud smoothly and securely at your agency? Check out GovLoop’s recent guide, “Innovations that Matter: How Cloud is Reinventing Government.”

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