My current position as a Fed affords me the opportunity to think strategically about cloud computing, specifically Infrastructure as a Service and Software as a Service, as part of a broader initiative to move my organization into a modern IT acquisition practice. One site for SaaS solutions often referenced by me and others in the discussion is apps.gov; while I want to leverage the capability there I simply haven’t been able to quite yet. Therefore I thought that instead of simply complaining I’d throw out a few suggestions and see what the govloop crowd thinks.
Let me make a few points up front to prevent potential flame wars:
- I think apps.gov is an incredible idea.
- I believe GSA should be commended not just for apps.gov but for their broad efforts at embracing web/gov 2.0 and for how active the GSA staff is within the broader community.
- Apps.gov is more visible and probably more successful than anything I have ever created (though one project I architected does have immense potential….), so I realize this post could be repudiated as an “everyone’s a critic” rant but I hope not.
This, then, is my apps.gov wish list:
1. Another tier between the application “categories” and the very confusing contractual items beneath these categories.
Let me explain. So, go the home page and click on Productivity Apps, then click on Office Tools and Suites and look at the results.
What I’ve noticed is that the hierarchical relationship between the top-tier categories and the middle-tier categories isn’t explained very well nor is it normalized, e.g. why does IQM2 and its 118 products appear under Office Tools here and under Business Apps/Communications? What is the difference between Business Apps/Communications and Productivity/Collaboration? I think I understand but it could certainly be clearer. An additional grouping under each sub-group, either by vendor or by sub-category with longer textual descriptions of the capabilities offered in that area might help users focus in on what they need and might make the tool a little less daunting.
2. Where is the social interaction?
As agencies begin looking toward the cloud one thing is certain: the path is confusing, the choices are overwhelming, and the future is, well, cloudy. Sorry for the pun, it’s obvious and I should know better. Social interaction with others who are attempting to navigate the same choices makes perfect sense; while some people might turn to GovLoop or some other social network for help others might not know where to turn. Forums, wikis, an apps.gov Facebook page, or any other social component just might help one entity jump into the cloud with a little more confidence. One would hope that research was done prior to arriving at apps.gov, but why not provide the service?
3. Clean up the Results!
I’m going to be profound and go out on a limb here: contracting and procurement of software licenses is confusing. Okay, so that was more of an obvious statement than a risky statement but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the results in apps.gov. Here’s the first result for Microsoft under Business Apps/Communications:
|TRA-00032||ExchgOnlnStd DdctdSvr ALNG SubsVL MVL Pe|
Going back to point #1, perhaps a third tier showing the vendors and the products they offer would help. Then the final click could bring you to the purchasing options. Even then, what would that search result actually mean? What is the pre-requisite? What is the product? So, I click on the TRA-00032 which links to product detail. That should help, right?
Nevermind, same results.
4. Provide GOTS Products
This might be a little optimistic but its worth exploring in my mind. I know that several applications and/or capabilties have been developed on the government dime and are good products worth using if only they were more widely available. What if apps.gov figured out a way for government to sell to government? I know this is about the cloud- so couldn’t we figure out a way to provide cloud infrastructure for good GOTS applications and then allow them to be distributed to other government agencies? An app exchange of sorts? Of course they SHOULD be free, but even a small charge would allow one agency to recoup the costs of developing the application in the first place. Hence we’d be combining cloud principles with software re-use which should help everyone (other than the big vendors!) win.
I’m really interested in seeing where apps.gov goes, and even moreso in seeing how cloud services can change IT acquisition within the government. Here’s hoping my ideas aren’t a total waste of your time!