Lesson from the Army cloud: If you do a contract quickly, 'you're in trouble'

A word of caution for agencies moving to the cloud: Don’t think you can rush through the contract process quickly.

“If you’re getting a contract action done quickly, you’re in trouble. You have missed something, I can tell you,” said Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Devine, during a panel at the FOSE Conference and Trade Exposition in Washington, D.C.

Devine, now president and CEO of Agility Development Group, learned hard lessons helping to launch the Army Private Cloud. Devine recently completed a three-year assignment as the Army’s product manager for Power Projection Enablers, where he was responsible for leading more than 120 information technology infrastructure and services projects valued at $414 million annually and in excess of $1.7 billion across the Army budget cycle.


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Devine stressed the importance of planning and assessing the risks associated with data center consolidation and cloud migration before embarking on the contract process, during a panel on the subject at FOSE, April 4. The panel also included Stanley Kaczmarczyk, deputy director of cloud computing service, with the Federal Acquisition Service’s Information Technology Services, which is a part of the General Services Administration; and Lamont Harrington, public sector cloud specialist with Microsoft.

From a government perspective. setting up cloud computing is an education process across every community -- program managers, users and contracting officers, Devine noted. Objectives of the migration have to be clearly stated in the contract language, so the government can make a successful transition at the end of the contract.

Additionally, the contract has to lay out the right incentives for industry to make money and for agency managers to get the services they are looking for, so no one loses. Finally, the contract has to ensure that IT is able to meet the operational demands of the community it is serving.

Setting up the cloud or migration strategies “is not for the faint of heart,” Devine said. “You’re not gong to do it quickly.” First, agency managers need to know what they want and clearly describe their requirements. Contracting officers can only go so far since their job is to handle the contract and move on, Devine noted.

Agency managers can move really fast and put out a bad project because they lacked knowledge about their data and the services levels from their vendors are not what they expected. It will take a long time from them to extract themselves from contracts based upon bad projects, he added.

Changes in technology are happening so rapidly that people tend to think that the acquisition of technology has to be rapid. “You can’t rush through [the process] or you will end up with bad acquisitions,” GSA's Kaczmarczyk said.

“Detail and clarity in contract language is huge,”  Microsoft’s Harrington said, noting that, as a service provider, that is what keeps him up at night. From an industry perspective it is hard to provide the right solutions if the client doesn’t understand the business at hand, he said.

Kaczmarczyk also said GSA has formed a working group with representatives from 11 agencies and industry partners associated with the Alliant contract vehicle to help agencies procure services through the different stages of their data center consolidation initiatives. Those include asset inventory, application mapping, migration and decommissioning of data centers.

The goal is to help agencies write clear statement of objectives so industry knows their needs and can meet expected service level agreements. If there are gaps in the process, GSA will find and fix them as the agency systematically goes through what type of contract vehicles are in place and what is needed to address agencies' consolidation efforts.


About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 10, 2012

Goes for everything;You just can not contract anything without a good undestanding of what you want and establishing the expectations and incentives;

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