The Sky is the Limit — How Agencies Can Soar by Embracing the Cloud


In December 2010, it seemed like the dawning of a new era in Government innovation: Vivek Kundra, who was the U.S. chief information officer (CIO) at the time, unveiled the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.” Among the highlights: a shift to a “Cloud First” policy, with each agency identifying three “must move” services within three months, and migrating these services within 18 months. The whole idea was to fast-track the government into the 21st Century, taking advantage of a wealth of valuable, cloud-delivered offerings.

“Leading private sector companies have taken great strides to improve their operating efficiencies,” Kundra wrote, in a Dec. 9, 2010 White House report about the plan. “Cloud technologies and Infrastructure-as-a-Service enable IT services to efficiently share demand across infrastructure assets, reducing the overall reserve capacity across the enterprise. Additionally, leveraging shared services of ‘commodity’ applications such as e-mail across functional organizations allows organizations to redirect management attention and resources towards value-added activities. The massive scale of the (government) allows for great potential to leverage these efficiencies.”

Yet, more than five years later, a cloud-driven government transformation has hardly taken hold, according to research:

  • In a budget analysis of seven major agencies conducted four years after the announcement of the plan, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the agencies had set aside a mere 2 percent of their total 2014 IT budget for cloud services – up from just 1 percent in 2012. In fact, agencies had not even evaluated cloud computing services for about two-thirds of their investments, indicating that they would only consider cloud options when they modernize or replace legacy systems. “This is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget policy that calls for cloud solutions to be considered first whenever a secure, reliable and cost-effective option exists regardless of where the investment is in its life cycle,” the GAO concluded.
  • In a 2014 survey of 286 federal executives, Accenture found that only one of 20 cloud migration plans submitted to the GAO for approval in 2012 was completed. What’s more, just three of ten of these execs were deploying cloud strategies.
  • In a 2015 survey, the Professional Services Council (PSC) revealed that just 8 percent of federal CIOs felt they had progressed as far as they wanted to in implementing a cloud-based solution.

Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. Especially when you take into account the following cloud benefits:

Efficiency. As Kundra wrote in his report, the cloud creates an abundance of efficiency gains. Nearly one-half of IT professionals cite this as a top benefit of cloud computing, according to a recent survey from Clutch. Users access applications faster, without the need for the tech department to procure new hardware or install new software. Again, from the PSC report, one CIO said his agency was bringing applications to market in 70 percent less time now, thanks to the cloud. Another noted a significant boost in DevOps efficiencies due to a global cloud platform which allows for the access of hardware and software tools “from a common application any place in the world.” Said another: “Our move to cloud email has given our 17,000 staff back two hours per month where they don’t need to manage their email boxes and given them 400 times more storage than before.” 

Cost savings. Estimates vary, but the Congressional Research Service reported last year that a consensus of findings indicates cloud computing can reduce IT costs by at least 50 percent. Through the cloud, you “pay as you go” for services, subbing out hefty capital expenses for less burdensome operating expenses. CIOs no longer pay tech teams to deal with systems maintenance, upgrades or bug fixes, enabling them to focus on innovation instead. One CIO quoted in the PSC report, for example, said the cloud was cutting lifecycle development costs by 90 percent.

Security. Behind only efficiencies, increased security ranked as the #2 benefit of cloud computing in the Clutch survey, as cited by 45 percent of IT professionals. This makes sense, as IT must safeguard a wide range of sensitive data – including financial documents, strategic reports and vital personal data about citizens and employees, such as Social Security numbers and home addresses. With critical information at stake, agencies should turn to a reliable cloud vendor with a proven track record of data protection. Toward this goal, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) has established a standardized approach to the security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring of cloud products and services. Specifically, cloud services providers have to conduct independent security assessments to receive Authorizations to Operate (ATOs), and undergo ongoing FedRAMP continuous monitoring.

Talent management. Through cloud-based analytics, HR teams locate often hard-to-find, highly qualified position candidates, and easily track them from recruitment to succession. They “win” the talent wars by eliminating bottlenecks within all stages of the application/interviewing process, creating a positive hiring experience. Then, after new employees come aboard, they similarly enhance onboarding, training/development and engagement initiatives. They also “see” vacancies months – even years – before they materialize, so they can adjust recruitment efforts well in advance. With this, HR raises performance levels agency-wide, thus emerging as a respected influencer of strategic execution.

Today, agencies have every reason to think “Cloud First.” By embracing the cloud and everything it has to offer, they immediately reap the rewards of budget savings, boosted efficiencies and heightened security. In addition, they build a more capable, dedicated and resourceful workforce, one that constantly finds new ways to expand the promise of the cloud. As a result, they thrive within a culture of continuous improvement – one in which the sky is, indeed, the limit.

Joe Abusamra is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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