According to Gallup, 21 percent of U.S. adults cite dissatisfaction with Government as the top problem facing the nation today. That’s more than double the percentage who believe second-place healthcare (9%) is the biggest challenge. Aside from an uptick during the 2013 partial government shutdown, you have to go all the way back to the Watergate crisis of the early 1970s to find dissatisfaction levels this high. While social media no doubt plays an outsized role in driving citizens’ cynicism today, one ongoing (and perhaps fair) assessment is that the government simply hasn’t kept pace with the times, especially when it comes to technology. That’s why the U.S. Federal Government implemented a “Cloud First” initiative in 2011. Based on the above numbers, the benefits of that program are kicking in just in time.
To the cloud and beyond
When fully implemented, Cloud First will account for more than $20 billion in Federal IT spend – more than one-fifth of the total budget. It’s designed to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and to give agencies more control over their computing services. By 2020, Cloud First is expected to result in halving the number Federal data centers to around 5,200 and cutting down on their real estate footprint by 31 percent. That’s good news for the nearly 325 million people who rely on the Federal Government every day for, among other things, safety and national security. Despite early successes, however, many agencies are still behind in the race to the cloud. In a pair of notable examples, the price of not upgrading could be potentially far higher than in simply dollars and cents.
The high cost of business as usual
With Tax Day just past, you may not want to hear that the Department of Treasury relies on assembly language – a code developed in the 1950s – to assess taxes, update accounts and generate refunds, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO). While that’s disheartening, here’s something that should keep you up at night: The Department of Defense still uses a 1970s-era IBM Series/1 computer, complete with 8-inch floppy disks to coordinate the “operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircrafts.” Fortunately, unlike the Treasury Department, the DoD has plans to move its systems to the cloud by the end of this fiscal year.
Collaboration in the cloud
The giant leap into cloud won’t only benefit U.S. citizens (and help them sleep better at night), it promises a boost to the more than 2 million public servants employed by the Federal Government, who, according to Gallup, are among the least engaged workers in the nation. That lack of engagement costs taxpayers an estimated $18 billion annually in lost productivity alone; which helps explain why so many people are dissatisfied with Government. On the other hand, it’s not hard to see why many of those workers are unhappy. Imagine toiling away on decades-old systems day after day, while your counterparts in the private sector have access to the most advanced technology that’s ever existed on the planet. Ouch. That’s one reason many agencies are choosing a collaboration hub as their initial cloud investment.
The importance of interactivity
Not only can an end-to-end collaboration solution help recoup wasted IT spend by breaking down silos, reducing fragmentation (one of the biggest factors to wasteful spending across government) and eliminating redundancies, it may also help reinvigorate disengaged public servants. A 2015 Redshift survey commissioned by Jive found that 60 percent of private sector workers believe access to modern collaboration tools is “very important” to their work. In addition, improving communication and collaboration in the workplace raises productivity by as much as 20 – 25 percent, according to McKinsey research. There’s no reason to believe Government can’t achieve similar results. By implementing a collaboration hub to connect workers to colleagues across agencies and departments, the Federal Government will be one step closer to achieving its tech goals, which include allowing remote employees to work securely from wherever they are in the world.
What’s taken so long?
Ancient legacy systems not only put human beings at unnecessary risk as in the DoD example above, they expose sensitive information to threats such as unintended data loss and cyberattacks. Security, once considered the primary barrier to cloud adoption, is no longer a concern thanks to the establishment of the Federal Risk Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP. FedRAMP’s rigorous certification requirements improve vendor evaluation and enhance security. With so much money at stake, private cloud companies are, not surprisingly, lining up to do business with the country’s largest employer. Cloud is a win-win-win for Government, tech companies and citizens alike.
Cloud First means that private sector solutions are now available to help solve important public sector problems. It’s also helping the people who’ve chosen public service actually connect with the public they’re serving. By utilizing modern tools to take on tasks like ideation, innovation and productivity, the U.S. Federal Government is taking a long-awaited leap into the 21st century. Responding to its citizen’s needs in real-time while saving taxpayer dollars in the process may even help citizens finally find the common ground the nation has been desperately seeking. A person can dream.