The New Age of Cloud in Government

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “5 Cloud Trends to Watch in Government.” Download the full guide here.

Over the course of the last 10 years, government IT processes have undergone massive changes. At the beginning of this decade, cloud computing was, for the most part, in early adoption stages. These days, its value is widely accepted.

In fact, almost half of all government organizations are actively using cloud services, according to research published by Gartner in October 2017. The study found that local governments spend 20.6 percent of their IT budgets on cloud, and national governments spend 22 percent.

Statistics like these show that the public sector has entered a new phase of maturity in its cloud adoption — one in which agencies are now migrating mission-critical systems to the cloud. To examine this theme, GovLoop recently sat down with Brett McMillen, Senior Manager of Federal Civilian at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“It’s a pretty exciting road that we’ve been on. When I was first [working with federal civilian customers] about seven years ago, most of what the federal government was doing was finding specific workloads they could move into the cloud,” McMillen said. “And what’s happened in the last several years is that agencies have been moving enterprise workloads and mission critical apps into AWS. They’re realizing the many things they can be doing in the cloud.”

When cloud first entered the public sphere, many viewed it as an inexpensive and more efficient way to compute and store data. It still does that, McMillen explained, but he’s seen agencies begin to use cloud-native solutions to do more than was previously possible.

As an example, he cited recent work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has been tapped by Congress to develop biometric verification as people leave the country. The agency has sought to tackle the requirement with a customer-centric solution.

CBP already has a passport photo for passengers, McMillen said, so they know what people look like. In the future, airlines could be able to use facial recognition and artificial intelligence to verify that the person approaching the gate is indeed the person who is supposed to get on the plane. Airlines have told AWS they might not require boarding passes in the future, according to McMillen.

Other agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC), are now using cloud to boost citizens’ confidence in government systems. AWS worked with the FEC to collect millions of campaign finance records, thousands of legal documents and more than 40,000 pages of other content and assemble it onto a new customer-centric website. The agency went further, building open APIs to allow other applications to retrieve near real-time information from FEC records.

Prior to the implementation of the FedRAMP, cloud adoption often proved time-consuming and expensive. That’s largely because individual agencies were repeatedly seeking authorization for the same products and services, slowing the speed at which government could securely provide helpful solutions, McMillen said. That’s now changing with shared services including those provided by the General Services Administration (GSA).

With cloud.gov, GSA provided a FedRAMP-approved platform that’s supported by AWS and is available for others to quickly and easily launch web applications. When agencies build a system on cloud.gov, they are aided by the platform’s FedRAMP compliance and reduce the amount of work they need to do.

Across government, agencies are looking for similar ways to streamline and standardize cloud acquisitions.

“Most of the departments we’re dealing with are coming up with agency-wide acquisition vehicles,” McMillen said. “They’re coming up with authorization that anybody can utilize and easily deploy with all the governance and government regulations and securities that they need and they are creating standard operating procedures.”

These new realities have made McMillen optimistic for the future. If the last seven years have been this eventful for cloud progression, he reasoned, the next seven must have even more in store.

“What we’re finding is that when you start taking all of these cloud services together, the problems that you can solve are only limited by your imagination,” McMillen said. “In general, what we’re seeing is the government being able to better utilize its data as assets, and more and more that, IT is becoming an enabler of citizen services.”

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