The Innovation Sandbox and Other Best Practices for Cloud-Hungry Agencies

The federal government’s Cloud Adoption Center of Excellence (COE), based at the General Services Administration, works with a wide range of services to help them jumpstart their cloud initiatives. Here are some best practices that the COE has put together that can help agencies at any level of government.

9 Steps to Developing Cloud-Based Services

The Cloud Adoption Playbook guides readers through nine basic steps that agencies can follow in delivering digital services through the cloud:

  1. Create business alignment: Successful cloud adoption requires aligning business value with a technology transformation strategy and agile implementation plan.
  2. Align and engage stakeholders: Before they can work together more effectively, agency stakeholders must agree on the high-level goals, aligned with business objectives and the
    overall agency mission.
  3. Identify an empowered leader: In a small agency, this might be an individual; in a larger agency, this will need to be a cloud team with a leader who has significant support from senior leaders.
  4. Inventory systems and rationalize application: Reviewing current systems, their cost footprint, end of life, security and customer satisfaction scores can help create an iterative modernization plan based on organizational priorities.
  5. Develop a cloud adoption plan: The plan should weigh opportunities and risks — and define specific outcomes expected of cloud adoption.
  6. Develop new cloud capabilities: To successfully procure cloud services, you must have clear requirements, and create service-level agreements that reflect these requirements.
  7. Use strategic communications: Agencies require a targeted communications strategy to help staff understand how and why more IT systems will move into the cloud.
  8. Pilot solutions: Using an Agile approach reduces risk and increases quality. You deliver working code with real value in every sprint.
  9. Iterate: As your implementation becomes more sophisticated, you can focus on utilization, efficiency, improving performance and refactoring.

Contracting for Cloud Services

For many agencies, the most challenging aspect of cloud is procurement. Contracting for cloud services simply requires a different way of thinking. Here are some of the best procurement practices that GSA recommends:

  • Draft a broadly defined statement of objectives, not a performance work statement or statement of work that might restrict how your objectives might be achieved.
  • Draft the requirements as capabilities-based, not performance-based.
  • Understand where your data might be stored. If a cloud service provider (CSP) stores data in a foreign jurisdiction, its servers may be subject to the laws of that jurisdiction and therefore risks seizure of government data by a foreign government.
  • Ask for direct access to CSP usage and billing/utilization reports, rather than receiving a single line item of cloud charges.
  • Consider awarding to a reseller that works with more than one CSP. That provides a choice of providers without the need for a multiple-award blanket purchase agreement.

The Innovation Sandbox

The COE recommends that agencies support the development of innovative ideas by using an innovation sandbox — a scalable cloud environment used specifically to build prototypes of new solutions before adopting them. That’s the approach that the COE takes with agencies, said Calvert Smith, Director of Cloud Adoption at the Cloud Adoption COE.

“A lot of times when our partners want to move to the cloud, they may not already have cloud space, or they may have innovations or technologies within a cloud, but they’re not quite sure how they work,” Smith said.

“Our innovation sandbox gives us the tools to come right in, jump into a cloud environment, or cloud-native services, help prototype new services, new applications within the cloud, with our partners, so that they can actually see something tangible, take a look at that new cloud service that they were thinking about,” he said.

The sandbox gives teams a chance to get up to speed on a particular technology or solution, which often accelerates the implementation phase. A sandbox is also a great learning platform, Smith said.

“A lot of times when we come in and there’s new technology that we all want to learn together, we’ll use that environment to help speed along that learning process,” he said. “We’ll jump in, we’ll do workshops and we’ll bring in industry partners and they help show us new technologies.”

The COE’s Cloud Adoption Playbook recommends that agencies consider the following questions when developing prototypes:

  • What were the key takeaways from prototyping?
  • How can business practices and technological implementation improve with every iteration?
  • What steps can you take to ensure a development team can deploy to a production environment as quickly as possible?
  • Can your agency automate security and compliance?

To read more about creating successful cloud initiatives, check out “A Cloud User Guide for the Everyday Problem Solver.”

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