Microsoft exec: Policy haste makes IT waste (like, using Google Apps)

Company's public-sector lead calls for careful decisions amid rapid IT changes

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Government agencies’ need for predictability from cloud computing providers and policy-makers — especially during a time of rapid technology and economic change — holds opportunities and risks for public-sector organizations, said Curt Kolcun, vice president of the U.S. public sector at Microsoft.

That’s because recent market changes, including industry consolidation and the consumerization of IT, had ramifications in the public sector that policy-makers had not thoroughly examined, Kolcun said at Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit this week.  

In providing examples, Kolcun took aim at alleged practices by the company’s rival, Google, that he said illustrated the conflicts that could result when policy-making is rushed.

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In one instance, Kolcun said, the General Services Administration asked for industry feedback on the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which was set up to provide a standard approach to authorizing cloud services. GSA said responders could submit their comments by using Google Docs, a Web-based collaboration application.

To Kolcun, it was a clear conflict of interest. “I think there’s a disconnect when the company that’s helping the federal government aggregate content is also a company that has a manifest interest in exactly what’s being collected,” he said.

“I don’t think GSA was malicious in that,” he added. “But I think as we try to move things quickly, we may not understand the full extent of the ramifications of some of the things that are happening.”

The rapid pace of change is affecting some basic presumptions about public records, Kolcun said, including the question of what constitutes a public document. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, he asked, “what is a government document? Is a tweet a public document; do we need to save that data?”

Google was again the cautionary example provided. “You look at government records and they get submitted into the Google cloud. When they come back, they are materially different,” Kolcun said. “Things like page numbers disappear, watermarks, a table of contents disappears, graphics are missing.”

“And so I don’t understand, from a government perspective, what those ramifications truly mean,” he added. “Have we forgotten about the lessons that we have learned and the need for things like open document formats? Document fidelity is absolutely critical to this marketplace.”

“That’s an area that we look at when we develop our tools to make sure that everything else supports those formats,” he said.

In an age of an emerging global cloud, those ideas need to be aired more thoroughly, he added. “There’s just an interesting discussion to be had on what are the ramifications and risks of government data and where is it actually going to reside. How does the U.S government determine what are my risks for these data centers?”

Asked whether he believed new institutions or policies should be created to explore those questions, Kolcun said, “I think there need to be discussions about it. There are organizations and processes in place to address this."

“I’m not suggesting we should slow down,” he added. “I just think that because of the fiscal challenges that are driving us as quick as possible, we may not be always thinking about the ultimate ramifications of what’s happening.”

Meanwhile, the battle in the cloud between Microsoft and Google took another turn this week, when Google announced plans for a new tool called Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, which can upload Microsoft Office files to Google's servers so they can be accessed and used via Google Docs or Office, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The Google Docs suite is an online alternative to Office, and although it is available for free, the Journal noted, many organizations have stuck with Office because their workers are used to it.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.


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