Cloud’s Culture Change Comes at the Top and the Bottom

When government officials describe a cultural barrier to cloud computing, they’re usually talking about ground-level changes.

When a workers’ email is glitchy he wants to call someone at a help desk two floors down not 2,000 miles away, and managers feel more comfortable when employees are working on projects at their desk rather than on iPads at home.

There’s a higher level to the cloud culture change, though. I recently was reminded of that while interviewing Gregg Bailey, a federal competency director with Deloitte Consulting and the former chief information officer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Most federal technologists are used to viewing new server space as an expensive and limited commodity, Bailey said. That means it’s difficult for them to take full advantage of the opportunity cloud computing offers to scale up in usage one month and down the next and only pay for the data they actually use each month.

“They haven’t really learned how to leverage that elasticity and it can be a real advantage if you know how to use it,” Bailey said. “It’s a business transformation more than a technology transformation.”

Cloud storage would allow employees with a good idea to test it out live and only risk one month’s worth of server costs, for instance, rather than put together a lengthy pilot.

“That would be a great example where you can ramp it up quickly, test it out and if it fails quickly then shut it down,” Bailey said. “That’s the kind of thing people aren’t thinking about.”

There are, of course, numerous exceptions, Bailey noted, especially in cases where elastic demand is already part of the government’s planning. The U.S. Census Bureau, for instance, sees a massive upswing in data usage every 10 years which then trails off until the next decennial census comes out.

Making flexible server space a core part of the government’s problem solving strategies will take some time, though, he said.