This morning I attended the Improving Efficiency in the Cloud GovLoop roundtable sponsored by Oracle. Cloud technology has been one of the hot topics in government for the past several months. As government is challenged by the dire budget situation and fiscal uncertainty, agencies are tasked to be more innovative to meet mission critical initiatives. Cloud technology has become one viable solution for agencies to share information, improve operational efficiency, increase transparency and strengthen service delivery.
Cloud technology goes beyond the buzz words of “doing more with less,” cloud serves as an enabler for agencies and provides the infrastructure for agencies to develop telework initiatives, improve customer service, and enables agencies to more efficiently share information in a secure environment.
The speakers this morning were Darren Ash (CIO, Nuclear Regulatory Commission), Sonny Hashmi (Deputy Chief Information Office, GSA) and Tai Kahn (Director Enterprise Cloud Services, Oracle Public Sector). Speakers sat at tables along with participants to help facilitate discussions. Chris Dorobek facilited the conversation that brought forth many lessons learned. I’ve condensed my notes and pulled out the key themes from this morning to share with the GovLoop community.
Managing Change verse Dictating Change
Much of the conversation this morning circled around the idea of change management and culture. I thought it was fascinating how the discussion this morning shifted towards understanding the human element. There was an interesting conversation around whether people resist change or desire change. Chris Dorobek had a great line, “People embrace change as long as it does not affect them.” The consensus was that traditionally it is not change that bothers people; it is when change is poorly managed. One lesson was that the key to the cloud is for top-level managers to really tell the story of how and why the cloud will make an employee’s job easier and place this into the context of their employee’s roles and the agencies mission.
Assessing Your Needs and Making Your Business Case
This was a recurring theme at the event this morning. The key lesson is that cloud technologies do so many things, and for the federal government, an agency needs to start by asking what the value of the cloud is to their agency. One of the panelist stated, “Just because everyone is using cloud, doesn’t mean you have too, agencies need to ask questions such as ‘what’s our business case,’ does the business case make sense for us?, and how do we protect information, the goal for agencies is to keep it simple.”
Some of the participants mentioned how agencies are often so focused on short-term initiatives that the long-term benefits are not adequately weighed in during the “making their business case” phase. For instance, when agencies perform their analysis prior to migrating to the cloud they will potentially find that they can save XXX amount in costs over ten years; with the money saved it can then be filtered back into mission critical initiatives.
The panel touched on numerous ideas of security. One interesting observation was the worry about where the data is physically located. Concerns who actually had access to the facility, where the facility was physically located, and where the data is stored were concerns of some government employees. Panelists reminded participants that the cloud provider should provide information as to the physical location of the data, and you should be able to request a visit to the data center if needed. The panel also recommended that all of these security concerns should be made upfront, prior to entering into a contract.
Closely related to security concerns was the observation that if your security concerns are not in order prior to moving to the cloud, government employees are adding on a secondary level of complexity to security. The goal of the cloud is to improve efficiency, not make everything more complex by adding an additional layer of complexity. This closely ties to the panelist’s recommendations on starting off by asking the easy questions and assessing your needs. This will help to discover if you are looking for a cloud solution, or potentially something entirely different.
The final element that we touched on was contracts for cloud technologies. Our panelist warned that when agencies enter into an agreement with a vendor, they must consider an exit strategy, just in case the agreement does not meeting their needs. Also, security issues should be laid out and needs should be addressed up front, not after the fact and once the deal is in place. FedRAMP is hoping to help alleviate some of these tensions for agencies and provided clarity and a standardized approach to cloud products and services.
Overall, this was a great session and I was able to hear a lot of interesting examples about cloud technology and its’ implementation in government.
What are some of your lessons learned from cloud technologies? What are some of your common roadblocks?