Do consolidation and cloud always kill jobs?

What happens to people when government agencies consolidate data centers or move to a cloud computing environment? Are they moved to other positions, or are jobs lost?

It depends on the situation and agency. In some cases, an agency might need to hire more people with technical expertise to assist with consolidation or to ensure that their important applications and data are integrated into a public cloud environment, according to federal CIOs.

“Not everyone has been able to save every single job,” said Dave Hinchman, senior supervisory analyst with the Government Accountability Office, which assessed agencies' data center consolidation efforts and issued a report on that progress along with recommendations in July.

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Agencies are sensitive about the topic, Hinchman said during a panel discussion on data centers at the Consolidation, Cloud & Mobility Convergence conference sponsored by AFFIRM and GITEC in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15.

“They do try to repurpose staff, transfer them and find other opportunities," Hinchman said. “They don’t want this to be some type of human capital nightmare where the efficiency experts come in and start slashing and burning.”

Agencies are very cognizant of the fact that this could turn into bad press for them and are trying very hard not to lose people, he added.

The Office of Management and Budget hopes to close 800 of the federal government’s 2,094 data centers by 2015. Agencies expect to shutter about 650 by that date, according to the GAO report.

The Interior Department hopes to close 95 data centers by 2015 and is on target to shutter 18 by the end of 2011, Interior CIO Bernard Mazer said.

“There has been no net loss in people,” during Interior’s consolidation efforts, Mazer said, adding that people were moved to other positions.

The Veterans Affairs Department discovered it needed to hire more people with technical expertise during a database consolidation initiative, said Jeff Shyshka, the VA’s deputy assistant secretary of IT operations.

As a result, the VA restructured job position grade levels, Shyshka said during a panel on public, private or mixed clouds.

The higher grades — GS 14-15 — are the highly technical, design engineers. At grades 7-9 are those with application expertise who can go into hospitals, for example, to explain how a spreadsheet works.

The Housing and Urban Development Department is fully outsourced but found that it still needed in-house technical expertise.

“HUD’s [IT operations] have been outsourced for many years and [we] thought we didn’t need people,” said Mark Day, HUD’s chief technology officer.

As agency managers bought applications that were not integrated with each other, they realized they needed either systems integrators or technical staff members to handle data integration. Agencies might need smaller technical staffs with the move to the cloud. However, “having nobody has proven not to be a fiscally wise decision,” he said. In the past, managed service providers would offer that type of expertise. But cloud providers are not interested in porting data between other providers, he said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading efforts to accelerate the development of standards that would infuse greater interoperability, portability and security in cloud environments.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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