Why aren’t we sharing more cloud applications?

Why aren’t we sharing more cloud applications?

“Why am I building the same thing over and over again?” asked Chad Sheridan, CIO of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

Sheridan explained that Agriculture Department agencies have been using separate systems to collect crop data and insurance information from farmers.  “There’s got to be a common set [of data] that we can collect once,” he said, rather than having farmers report the same information twice.

Part of the problem, it seems, is the nature of the cloud platform.

According to Sheridan, who spoke at the June 17 MeriTalk Cloud Brainstorm Event, it’s “maddening” that government agencies use similar cloud applications -- like data intake systems and workflow management systems -- that are rebuilt for each agency.

In reality, these systems have about a three percent difference in functionality, Sheridan said, and should be able to share applications at their core platform level, such as SalesForce or Microsoft Azure, before custom coding. The agency-specific coding can be altered and tweaked later on, he suggested.

“Why do I have to try to build it myself?” Sheridan continued, stating all federal agencies are not in competition, though this siloed approach to cloud-based development creates one.

Joe Paiva, CIO at the International Trade Administration, said his agency is taking measures to address this issue by reaching out to other agencies and leveraging common platforms.

“The intent right now is that we’re going to take every app we develop on the SalesForce platform and put it in the app exchange for every other federal agency or private citizens to download for free,” Paiva said.

That plan includes an option to download up to 90 percent of the application and alter it to better suit specific needs or requirements.

On the flip side, Paiva said, he is working with USDA and the General Services Administration to take what they’ve been doing with task management systems, download it and tweak it to fit his agency's needs, instead of creating something completely new.

“I think we want to go down that same path with Azure, with Amazon, with every other vendor we can,” Paiva said. "[T]here is no reason to recreate these things

The Environmental Protection Agency is facing a similar demand, inside and outside the agency. “I love the idea of sharing across the federal government,” EPA Chief Technology Officer Greg Godbout said. “Across the hallway would be great too.”

According to Godbout, there’s a “deep-seated” mistrust in the culture of government that agencies must work through in order to develop a collaborative cloud platform environment.

Godbout also touched on the importance of having integrators on board who know how software is built to help agencies more effectively develop an enterprise platform, rather than a multitude of platforms from different vendors that do not share information or functionality. 

The move to the cloud is driving a cultural change within the CIO community as well, according to Paiva. He said he now sends CIO staff to become trade specialists, rather than specialists in the technology itself.

“No federal agency will ever run a data center as well as Amazon or Google, a network as well as AT&T or Verizon,” he said. "They’ll never develop software as well as Oracle, SalesForce or Microsoft, so don’t do it."

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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