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The Great Cloud Migration

When it comes to cloud systems, government agencies tend to be more risk averse than those in the private sector. The move to the cloud can be especially difficult for less adaptable staffs. Fortunately, there are many great examples of agencies in government taking the risk to migrate to cloud services.

At the conclusion of today’s GovLoop event, Evolution of the Cloud, Terry Owens, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), inspired us by sharing what his agency is doing to join this great migration. “We’re all in when it comes to cloud migration,” Owens said. “For us, it’s more efficient and cost effective for the organization.”

Before the Migration
CBO has come a long way since Owens joined a year ago. So, what was the state of affairs at CBO before moving to the cloud? Owens described the tech scene as a “mishmash of disparate tools and databases.” “It’s very convoluted. As one database goes down, it affects another database,” he said. Additionally, CBO had separate, redundant data stores and lacked a centralized system. “We had to get away from this type of design,” he said. But how exactly can the cloud help government agencies suffering from data mishmash and redundancies?

Why the Cloud?
Owens presented a strong case for choosing an organization-wide move to the cloud. “Cloud computing has a number of benefits including greater reliability, availability, and efficiency.” Other benefits Owens referred to include:

  • Ease of Management– Including performance monitoring and automated alerts.
  • Reduced Costs– Particularly for software licensing management.
  • Robust Backup
  • Ability to Add or Adjust Infrastructure as Needed
  • Transparency to Users

Owens suggested using pre-existing FedRamp systems to tackle security concerns. “Sensitive data and all transmissions will be encrypted. It would be like other pay systems like the National Finance Center (NFC) Pay System,” he said. The NFC services more than 170 agencies and provides secure payroll services to more than 650,00 Federal employees. After justifying the migration to the cloud, “The main objective was to learn and discover as well as increase workforce incentivization.” Once the learning and discovering began, CBO adopted an all-in strategy for cloud migration.

All-In Adoption Strategy
Before fully committing to the cloud, Owens said CBO tested the waters through pilot programs. “The lessons we learned from early projects were to categorize our systems, implement security controls, assess those controls, monitor them, and authorize the systems.” Once the learning and discovering process was complete, the next stage was to find the “Cloud Champions.” “Identify key people with knowledge of your business to help implement cloud services,” Owens said. Finally, it was time to go “all-in.” Owens described this stage as the integration of cloud concepts and services into every aspect of the organization including teleworking, virtual desktops and BYOD, Platform and Software services (PaaS and SaaS), and elimination of on-premise data centers. The goal was to align agency policies, procedures, and processes to cloud-oriented thinking. “Our workforce is now trained to think ‘Cloud first’ when developing solutions,” he said.

Key Takeaways
Owens shared these tips to help your government agency take the first steps toward the cloud migration:

  • Increase Your Knowledge Base– Develop security policies and procedures. Make sure your tech staffs are thinking of “cloud first” solutions and increase the knowledge bases for information security.
  • Test the Waters– Before diving in too deep, test the waters of cloud services through pilot programs. Use this time to help your workforce get acquainted with cloud systems. Practice on public web servers and non-critical applications.
  • Get the BuyIn: Focus your cloud strategy on the user. Get the buy-in of the customer/user to see how your organization can be more effective in helping users do their own jobs. “Brief the customer about what’s going on and your organization’s plan,” Owens said.

The first steps toward cloud migration can be daunting, especially if your agency is more prone to risk aversion. As Owens mentioned, however, the cloud can help your agency systems be more effective and even more secure. He left us with a great parting thought: “The evolution of the cloud is really the evolution of risk-taking and our appetite for change. It’s okay to take risks as long as we understand and manage those risks.”

 

Photocredit: Flickr/Petras Gagilas

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