Feds & The Cloud: Management Approach Must Evolve - InformationWeek

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Government // Cloud computing
09:06 AM
Sean Rhody and Kevin L. Jackson
Sean Rhody and Kevin L. Jackson
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Feds & The Cloud: Management Approach Must Evolve

Cloud services change how federal agencies acquire, fund, and use IT services. IT managers must realize they're buying a service, not technology.

Cloud computing has introduced a new model of acquiring hardware and software. In reality, you aren't acquiring anything physical, and much of the value of moving to the cloud is driven by the transition from using physical resources (hardware, software, and labor hours) to the consumption of online services (infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service) that deliver similar functions. 

While the technical aspect of this change seems to capture all the headlines, the financial and governance aspects are just as important -- but end up on the back burner. Unfortunately, the necessary changes in management policy, acquisition processes, and organizational behavior rarely get the planning they deserve or get executed properly in advance. This disconnect can quickly derail any cloud transition.

Government IT managers must accept that cloud computing means the purchase of a service, not the purchase of technology. This usually represents a fundamental change in how technology is acquired and managed. Because the transaction doesn't involve any physical entity, the procedures and processes associated with the inspection, acceptance, inventory, and management of IT might not apply. IT managers must instead develop and put into place new parallel policies that apply to the delivery of virtual services.

[Here's how the Navy is handling a cloud-driven IT overhaul: Navy Eyes Cloud Storage.]

As consumers of a service, government procurement organizations also need to realize they have less control over the technology that's being used to supply the service. They also might have less control of the location and storage of data, and will need to evolve data security and storage policies to address possible risks. This change carries through even to when the service is discontinued, because physical decommission processes no longer apply. These differences require IT managers to modify the control mechanisms they use to manage IT resources.

Changes to the cloud model will also drive changes in the public sector budgeting process, moving multi-year capital expenditures into the annual operational expense column. This inevitably results in a much tighter linkage between internal financial approval processes and an agency's operational delivery capability.  

In this new environment, delays in the back office can immediately affect customer and constituent satisfaction. Back-office processes that took days to complete must now be done in hours or minutes. This situation drives the need to change back-office behavior and many financial review and approval processes. In the public sector, this might also require important changes in law. Senior elected and appointed officials, IT managers, and procurement executives might, at times, need to make decisions in real-time in order to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities -- particularly when responding to emergencies or disasters.  

On the flip side, cloud services also allow for a much more rapid response to mission and business needs. This development changes the customer's definition of acceptable service. Issues that take more than a few minutes to correct are no longer tolerated when an alternate service is only a mouse-click away.

Government agencies need to pay particular attention to this new reality. Their constituents now compare government services to those of Apple and Google. Agency leaders need to comprehend how this important change in perception can quickly lead to unhappy constituents. They also need to address how to modify and decommission information-based services much more rapidly.

Cloud services represent a fundamental shift in the way government agencies acquire, fund, and use IT services. The agencies need to adapt their missions, IT, and internal policies in order to operate effectively in this new environment.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

Kevin L. Jackson is the CEO & founder of GovCloud Network, which provides technical training and business education on the use of advanced information technology. He previously has held senior management and IT leadership positions for NJVC, Sirius Computer Solutions, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, and SENTEL Corporation.

Sean Rhody is Chief Technology Officer of Capgemini Government Solutions, responsible for technology and cloud computing solutions across Capgemini's federal and state and local public sector practices. Prior to joining Capgemini, Rhody was a partner at Computer Sciences ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
4/1/2014 | 11:32:11 PM
Right on
I think this is a great article, completely agree. As more and more adopt the cloud, including the feds, we'll see a greater understanding of what exactly they're dealing with. For the rest of us, business users and the "consumer" users, this means a greater stress on things like security and reliability, so that's a plus.
User Rank: Ninja
3/22/2014 | 11:18:43 AM
Leaner and meaner
A great article, and a much needed one to remind everyone that as IT moves away from capital expenditures to the new OPEX model, it's the policies that really need a good revamp.  The nice side benefit is that these agencies who may have large legacy data centres now have a great business opportunity to buy and sell services amongst each other in an almost cloud-brokerage style model.  The larger agencies who have data centres can now play cloud provider, and have other smaller agencies subscribe to their services, leveraging the cloud cost models.  This not only helps pay the equipment cost (and any existing capital outlays still on the books), but helps reduce redundency of equipment, and really streamlines costs, making the overall departments more efficient.  Just another way cloud is helping streamline computing procurement and delivery.
User Rank: Author
3/21/2014 | 1:02:52 PM
Re: Sea change
Worth noting: NIST is holding an important symposium on the intersection of cloud and mobility March 25-27.

More details available here:

User Rank: Apprentice
3/20/2014 | 12:58:05 PM
Re: Sea change
Thank you for the comment Wyatt. The adoption of cloud computing is a major change management challenge across the government enterprise. I hope this article will help spark the necessary dialog.
User Rank: Author
3/20/2014 | 11:03:43 AM
Sea change
Sean and Kevin raise some important issues that haven't gotten as much attention as they should: Namely that IT and business leaders jointly need to tackle the back office aspects of commissioning and decommissioning cloud services. There are legitimate hurdles to overcome in virtualizing operations and bridging in house systems with cloud service providers, so the volume of discussion on the tech front has been warranted.  But acquiring, managing and forecasting the use of these services really does require a sea change in the way management approaches cloud services. Sean and Kevin are on the money on this.
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