In launching shared services, agencies find ways to build awareness of their offerings and to overcome misunderstanding about the cloud.
Almost all state executive branch agencies participate in some form of IT shared services, according to a recent survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.
But while shared services are falling into place, the use of the cloud as a means of sharing still needs to clear a few hurdles. A basic lack of awareness among prospective customers is a big one, government IT executives say.
Phil Bertolini, CIO and deputy county executive for Oakland County, Mich., which offers shared services to other local governments said one the issues Oakland County ran into as it expanded its shared services push was that local governments had no idea what their counterparts could offer. Agency-brokers need to promote their services.
“The hard part is a lack of understanding out there,” he said. “They don’t understand what the cloud is or how to share services in that way. They are concerned with security — where is their data going to be?”
So Oakland County collaborated with National Association of Counties (NACo) to create an online catalog, which debuted earlier this year, that lets counties shop for applications or add their own to share with other governments.
“We are just starting to get more counties on board,” Bertolini said, noting that more than 20 governments have put their data in the NACo Application Store.
At the federal level, Uncle Sam’s List offers a directory of shared services. The list is built on MAX.gov and uses custom plugins to the WordPress application suite. Max.gov is an Office of Management and Budget platform for governmentwide collaboration and information sharing.
Uncle Sam’s List provides a repository of available services, but is not designed for purchasing, according to an OMB statement. More than two-dozen agencies list shared services on the OMB service, GSA among them. Kireilis said GSA has included both of its cloud BPAs on the list and more than a dozen other shared contract vehicles.
OMB said all agencies that use Max.gov have access to Uncle Sam’s List. Federal agencies are the primary audience, though state agencies can get access to the list upon request.
Getting the word out is one thing: getting agencies over the notion of one-of-a-kind requirements presents another challenge. Industry and government executives suggested that agencies are beginning to break down that barrier, although traditional views endure.
“Thinking is starting to change, but those types of cultural issues and change management concerns do persist,” said Simon Szykman, Commerce Department CIO. “Where we see the greatest evidence of change in thinking is in the kinds of services that are highly commoditized and therefore where there’s the most commonality in requirements across organizations, and also where there’s the highest level of maturity in the commercial service offerings.”
Accordingly, much of the early activity in moving to the cloud has involved areas such as cloud email and cloud-based Web hosting and Web content management, Szykman added.
Security has been a traditional concern with cloud shared services
, but Bertolini said government-provided services could help allay those fears. When customers sign up for the county’s cloud solutions, their data resides within government. “That breaks down a big roadblock right away,” he said.
So is wider acceptance around the corner?
Peter Gallagher, group vice president of Unisys Federal Systems, said the cloud can help agencies reduce operations and maintenance costs, which siphon budget dollars away from innovation. But he noted that cultural barriers remain.
“It’s just not that easy for people to change the way they do business,” he said.