Next step in the cloud: financial systems

Kundra says agencies will look to provision ERP systems as a service

The difficulty of wrestling with large internal financial systems will prompt agencies to look to move those systems to the cloud, federal CIO Vivek Kundra told attendees at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop today.

“One of the biggest areas where you’re going to see demand is for our financial systems,” Kundra said.

Both government agencies and private-sector companies are struggling to bring large, expensive enterprise resource planning systems under control. As a result, agencies are asking “How can we provision ERP systems as a service?” Kundra said.


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Kundra gave his perspective on cloud computing advances during a morning session in which he was interviewed by Alan Marcus, senior director and head of IT and telecommunications industries at the World Economic Forum USA.

The spotlight has been on the General Services Administration and Agriculture Department moving e-mail to the cloud. But every agency has identified three “must-move” applications to the cloud as part of the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point IT reform plan, Kundra said.

All agencies are in their early stages from an acquisition viewpoint. However, agencies are looking to move a broad range of applications, from those that want to move their entire infrastructure to those that want to move collaboration software, Kundra said.

“I would argue there is a lot more activity than you have heard about,” Kundra said in answer to Marcus’ question about why there are not more examples of cloud computing implementations in the federal sector.

The current fiscal situation is driving federal, state and local government agencies’ move to the cloud, he said, citing examples such as the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. “The public sector spends too much time on managing complicated infrastructure rather than focusing on high-value work,” he said.

As a result, there is a need to close  the gap between what the public expects from their online experience with the private sector and what they expect from the government. For example, applying for a student loan online has to be as simple as buying an airline ticket online.

There is also a need to demystify cybersecurity concerns related to the cloud. One way might be through the contractual process, Kundra said. The government has about 4,700 systems that have been outsourced, and each agency's unique mission and requirements have been thought through and negotiated during the contract process.

“For some weird reason, when talking about cloud computing, decades of case law and contractual [law] are thrown out the door,” Kundra said, adding that cloud is a natural evolution of technology. For instance, when the Recovery Board moved its website to the Amazon cloud, all of the requirements were spelled out. Agency officials didn’t treat the cloud provider differently from traditional IT vendors providing technology and services to the government, he said.

The problem of data sovereignty and government data stored over international boundaries still needs to be solved. The United States is working with the European Union and organizations such as the World Economic Forum on these issues. However, it is not a question of technology but of international law, Kundra said. The big challenge for the global community is whether countries can come together and rationalize issues such as national security and privacy.

What would be dangerous is if the global community took the current construct in the physical world and tried to apply it to the digital world. NIST is working on how to collaborate with other nation-states and contribute, at the same time, to broader economic issues.

The NIST Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop III is taking place April 7 and 8 at the agency’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md.






About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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