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Cloud Kool-Aid

We’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid and believe in using the cloud.

And with almost 1 million active apps alone in the Apple Store it is no wonder why.

The cloud can create amazing opportunities for shared services and cost efficiencies.

The problem is that many are using the cloud at the edge.

They are taking the cloud to mean that they in government are simply service brokers, rather than accountable service providers.

In the service broker model, CIOs and leaders look for the best, cost effective service to use.

However, in NOT recognizing that they are the ultimate service providers for their customers, they are trying to outsource accountability and effectiveness.

Take for example, the recent failures of Healthcare.gov, there were at least 55 major contractors involved, but no major end-to-end testing done by HHS.

We can’t outsource accountability–even though the cloud and outsourcing is tempting many to do just that.

Secretary Sebelius has said that the buck stops with her, but in the 3 1/2 years leading up to the rollout relied on the big technology cloud in the sky to provide the solution.

Moreover, while Sebelius as the business owner is talking responsibility for the mission failures of the site, isn’t it the CIO who should be addressing the technology issues as well?

IT contractors and cloud providers play a vital role in helping the government develop and maintain our technology, but at the end of the day, we in the government are responsible to our mission users.

The relationship is one of partners in problem solving and IT product and service provision, rather than service brokers moving data from one cloud provider to the next, where a buck can simply be saved regardless of whether mission results, stability and security are at risk.

In fact, Bloomberg BusinessWeek outlines the 3 successful principles used in the creation of consumerfinance.gov by the new CFPB, and it includes: “Have in-house strategy, design, and tech”!

Some in government say we cannot attract good IT people.

Maybe true, if we continue to freeze salaries, cut benefits, furlough employees, and take away the zest and responsibility for technology solutions from our own very talented technologists.

Government must be a place where we can attract technology talent, so we can identify requirements with our customers, work with partners on solutions, and tailors COTS, GOTS, open source solutions and cloud services to our mission needs.

When Sebelius was asked on The Hill about whether Healthcare.gov crashed, she said it never crashed, which was technically incorrect as the site was down.

The cloud is great source for IT provision, but the pendulum is swinging too far and fast, and it will by necessity come back towards the center, where it belongs as an opportunity, not a compliance mandate.

Hopefully, this will happen before too many CIOs gut the technology know-how they do have and the accountability they should provide.

(Adapted from my blog at www.andyblumenthal.com)

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Joshua Millsapps

I absolutely agree with you that government needs talented technologists who are empowered and encouraged to engage today’s challenges. I have a friend who has been in government many years who said that he first came into government because it was where the most exciting things were happening in technology, but that he hasn’t felt that way about a project in 20 years.

Jerry Rhoads

My thoughts are that –how technology is applied needs to be better understood in order to manage its outcomes.

It seems that by outsourcing to the “Cloud”, many CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, feel that they can reap the rewards of delivering a technology product without having to host it themselves.

What they fail to see is that the “Cloud” Provider suffers from the same ailments that affect their current Technology Organization.

The problem (I think) with Technology Departments (and their Projects) is human in nature –this occurs in government as well as in big private sector companies.

Large Companies and Government IT organizations need to focus on their foundation, which is their people, followed by processes. It is hard [if not impossible] to Run, if you can’t Walk or even Stand up for that matter. What I am getting at, is before you create processes or adopt existing ones (such as ITIL or PMP), make sure you have the right people on staff.

When staff issues are left UN-checked, Stress, low Morale will lead to a high turnover of employees. Here are some of the root causes of high employee turnover:

1. A general lack of direction (or sharing that direction with employees) in regards to a technology road-map (i.e. where are we as an organization and where are we going)

2. Lack of understanding of the required technical skill-sets needed to staff a department, program, or project

3. Managers who are not technically proficient in the area(s) they manage.

4. Lack of career development or promotion opportunities for an organization’s internal technology employees

These 4 items are a sample of issues that turn into bigger problems –and that in turn lead to a failure of a department’s ability to deliver quality service, support, and products.

As far as the ACA (Obamacare) website issues –that is a topic on to itself! More specifically Procurement, Government Micro-Management, and I’d imagine High Contractor Employee turnover would be topics for discussion.

Just my 2 cents,