Accelerating Cloud Computing in Government Requires New Management Approach

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CIOs must swap magic for real insights on what and how cloud technologies benefit to their agency.

Public sector technology executives know they need modernization, while also improving cybersecurity and reducing costs. But, they often emphasize technology over outcomes, as if new technologies are magic for delivering better government for the citizen. Moreover, governments often underestimate the care required to adopt new technologies at the scale needed by agencies that impact millions of lives. The cloud is today’s magic, and getting results from the tidal shift to cloud computing will require a new standard of management. 

The benefits from modernizing government are well-known today: meeting digital worker and citizen expectations, including security, ease of use anytime-anywhere, value and cost. What is not so obvious, however, is how the jump to cloud computing delivers those benefits. As a recent Government Accountability Office report highlighted, merely moving applications to the cloud does not guarantee benefits.  

CIOs must swap magic for real insights on what and how cloud technologies benefit to their agency. For example, application programming interfaces dramatically reduce the need to build and manage customized code. Related technologies, like containerization and virtualization, enable applications to run in the cloud at much lower cost than dedicated servers. Web services and microservices enable government to build and maintain applications at a fraction of the cost required less than a decade ago. Applied well, these technologies separate legacy code and data formats to enable data analytics, robotics process automation and new ways of collaborating for digitizing services and regulatory enforcement. 

Savvy IT shops are taking an “ecosystem” operating model focused on outcomes. That is very different to the “IT silo” approach of managing unique software and hardware for each application. The new operating model includes:

  • Secure hybrid cloud; 
  • Cloud management platform that enables the CIO as a trusted broker; 
  • Transparency of IT service costs and performance; 
  • Deploying web-services and micro-services to replace inflexible applications components; 
  • IT process automation; and 
  • DevSecOps for process digitization instead of automating “cow paths.”

Rather than relying on the magic of the cloud, CIOs should adopt three basic strategies.

  1. Get away from the capital expenditure model, once and for all. An IT service catalog for a hybrid cloud should provide transparency documenting increased performance, better security and reduced cost compared to legacy siloed approaches. Day-to-day management should use a cloud management platform for comparing options, ordering, and tracking data on usage, performance and costs. 
  2. Employ apps-level thinking. Ask yourself, what is the outcome I’m trying to deliver to the internal or public user? This is where agile development infused with security and line worker engagement (DevOps) comes in. Leveraging microservices into applications gives greater benefit than simply containerizing legacy applications.
  3. Tackle behavioral economics to ensure the acceptance of the new strategies. While cost and performance advantages may be obvious to the department CIO, agencies and systems owners have to overcome fear about loss of control. Creating an outcome-based value for agency operating needs and pressures is key, including accurate cost and performance data that addresses specific challenges of an agency (e.g. cost and time to implement new regulations in legacy systems). Given the dynamics of cloud offerings, CIOs must continually adjust their IT service catalogs to encourage adoption while accepting a certain level of the fixed costs. For example, business process re-engineering is often necessary to get to digital services, and many governments have had success using a DevOps environment to demonstrate the productivity and security benefits of digitized processes versus continuing with paper or merely automating outdated paper workflows. 

Mark Forman , former U.S. Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget (2001-2003),  is vice president of digital government for Unisys Federal. 

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