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Cloud smart: Practical considerations on where to focus

Since "cloud first" launched in 2010, federal agency spending on cloud services has grown -- from an estimated $1.3 billion in 2010 to a projected $6.5 billion in fiscal 2018 -- and the cloud itself has become a foundational component of IT modernization. For scaling and optimizing resources, accelerating application delivery, lowering maintenance costs and transforming the customer experience, the cloud has revolutionized what’s possible.

Yet many federal agencies are tapping into only a fraction of this promise. Often data remains locked in silos, in many cases the pace of new application development still lags, digitally savvy citizens fail to engage with government apps and websites and the lion’s share of IT budgets continues to go to the maintenance of legacy systems.

Cloud smart," the 2018 cloud strategy refresh, aims to change this. Its three pillars of security, procurement and workforce touch on key pain points and lessons learned over the past eight years. As the public comment period closes and government and industry continue to work together to flesh out the details, acquisition officers and CIO shops are watching and wondering what’s next: How does the high-level cloud-smart vision translate to on-the-ground implementation? Where should agencies focus now in their cloud journey? Here are practical tactics to consider as the strategy unfolds.

Use existing resources and ideas

For accelerating IT modernization, agencies have a world of successful commercial and federal implementations to draw from.

Rather than reinvent the wheel with new tools, applications, infrastructure and ideas, use proven approaches that already exist. Consider reusable patterns for security architecture that accelerate the path to authority to operate, data architectures and management strategies that have been shown to meet the privacy needs of a mission critical systems and cloud-native application architectures that fulfill the promise of high-velocity DevSecOps. Examine best practices established by peers in government and industry. And make the move from working in silos to collaborating across agencies through platforms and forums.

Expand the view of cloud economics

Procurement and acquisition officers don’t need to be seasoned cloud specialists; however, they should have a nuanced understanding of how the cloud works and the functionality it can bring beyond storage and computing power.

This knowledge is important for grasping the full picture of cloud value. Decision makers who determine how and when organizations move to the cloud need to factor in all the benefits of cloud native applications and environments, such as higher velocity delivery, the ability to leverage infrastructure as code, a lowering of the barrier to innovation and an expedited approach to updating and patching -- i.e. lower operations and maintenance (O&M)costs. Estimating the cost of the software development lifecycle in a cloud-native environment must address how cloud can lower the cost of delivering new mission and business capability, which is very different than calculations for legacy systems hosted in a traditional data center.

Encourage new -development spending with goals and metrics

Ideally, cloud adoption promises to reduce the sizable amount of federal IT spending currently devoted to maintaining legacy technology and solutions. Redirecting the budgetary focus from O&M to new capabilities is a significant shift from the status quo; however, agencies can incentivize and accelerate the transition through setting measurable goals that reflect migration to a contemporary, cloud-native world. Every organization’s goals will differ, but some common metrics may include frequency of deployments, integration and reuse of common cloud services, mean time to recover and application resiliency/uptime.

Examine operations and outcomes

With client server architecture, web technology and now the cloud, the fundamental technology shifts over the past four decades have been about what these technologies can do, not the technology itself. Many organizations focused too exclusively on the IT aspects of cloud. Now they find themselves on their third or fourth less-than-ideal cloud migration strategy.

Agencies can improve their odds of implementing a cloud migration strategy that meets their objectives by rationalizing the portfolio of applications and workloads against current and future mission needs, and developing a robust data management strategy. As federal IT modernization rarely begins with the development of a new “greenfield” application, a cloud migration may involve hundreds, possibly thousands, of legacy applications, many of them redundant. Where should agencies start? Where should the data reside and how will it be secured? Change management should be considered, which is wisely addressed in the workforce aspects of cloud smart. Specific questions that should be addressed touch on how to upskill employees, encourage adoption or integrate IT modernization into workflows.

Empower agencies with smart strategies

The cloud has enabled federal agencies to reallocate O&M budgets toward the development of new capability, accelerate deployments, tap into the power of their data and revolutionize the pace and quality of citizen digital experiences. When implemented to their full potential, cloud solutions can empower the federal government to act with agility to regulatory changes, national emergencies and citizen demands -- plus deliver digital solutions beyond the grasp of legacy technology and legacy-based solutions. Through strategic consideration of the areas above, federal IT leaders can start making good on this promise as the cloud-smart discussions unfold.

About the Author

Dan Tucker is vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.


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