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What Federal Leaders Don’t Know About Cloud is Hurting Them

August 1, 2014
While government agencies are steadily adopting cloud services, there’s a big disconnect at the leadership level.

A recent study of senior federal executives released by the Government Business Council is stark in its findings. In a dozen questions concerning their agencies’ actions and benefits relating to cloud adoption, the leaders’ most frequent response by far was “Don’t Know.” In question after question, the leaders acknowledged little understanding of their own agencies’ strategies, staffing or practices.

The lack of knowledge is less surprising when you consider who answered the questions. Of the 286 agency leaders responding, only 8% were in IT organizations. The majority were in operations, finance and procurement – not the people likely to have expert insight into IT topics.

It’s a situation familiar to IT departments in the private sector: good work done by the technical folks isn’t understood higher up in the organization. That just makes it harder to get widespread traction for IT initiatives that require organizational commitment and budget.

The disconnect is more problematic in the government sector. Adopting the cloud is actually a federal mandate. Since 2011, the federal “Cloud First Policy” has required that federal agencies  considering new IT investments look into cloud options with an eye toward cost saving and rapid development. To make cloud adoption even simpler, the General Services Administration  (GSA) recently piloted “cloud brokerage services”. These intermediary organizations will aggregate and customize cloud services, making it even easier for federal agencies to take advantage of cloud opportunities.

You’d think that with this kind of regulatory pressure and simplified administration for adopting the cloud would be a no-brainer. You’d be half right.

Cloud initiatives are going like gangbusters – the leadership just hasn’t caught on. Federal cloud contracts grew over 600-fold from $27 million in 2009 to more than $17 billion in 2013. The Government Business Council’s report on cloud in 2014 uses words like “enormous” and “explosive” to describe the velocity of cloud growth.

Still, there’s a fog among the key leaders with operational and budgetary control, which holds back full-scale adoption. The surveyed federal leaders surmise that they could save money by migrating to the cloud. Yet nearly half of them have no opinion how they would measure cloud ROI.

The time for clearer focus has arrived. In government, as in business, IT departments inevitably bear the burden of selling the virtues of cloud services to the larger organization. There are plenty of case histories of successful implementations in federal and local governmental agencies. It’s easy to find established vendors with extensive cloud offerings and regulatory expertise.  What’s needed is a coherent strategy inside IT to demonstrate as visibly as possible the concrete benefits of embracing the cloud. At the top of the list would be cost savings, time-to-market for updated services and disaster recovery.

Like most organizations, federal agencies stand to realize significant gains from cloud adoption. The challenge is for IT leaders to shine some daylight on the cloud.

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