Moving to the Cloud? Change Your Culture First

Flickr user Chris Potter

The biggest barrier to cloud technologies in government has more to do with people than technology, officials say.

The biggest barrier to maximizing the use of cloud technologies in government has more to do with people than technology, according to Defense Department IT officials.

U.S. Air Force Chief Technology Officer Frank Konieczny said Tuesday the biggest lesson learned in implementing cloud solutions across the Air Force has been the need for culture change.

“Cultural change for us has been one of the big ones,” said Konieczny, speaking at an event hosted by ImmixGroup. “You have to give up control of applications, and we’re moving down that road now, and it’s such a road that we want everything as a service.”

The Air Force wants to manage fewer IT services, eventually only operating critical IT systems that otherwise couldn’t be operated by a cloud service provider.

The shift is because of a shortage of airmen with the necessary technological skill sets, officials say.  

Yet, gaining traction for cloud efforts across the agency and its various bases, which operate like individual subsets of the Air Force as a whole, has been a painstaking process. People inherently “don’t want to give up” ownership of servers or applications, Konieczny said.

It’s the same at the Pentagon, according to Robert Vietmeyer, cloud lead for the Defense Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, contributing to the department’s slow-but-steady move to cloud computing.

The Pentagon faced cultural resistance from program heads and executives early in its exploratory cloud efforts, he said, when the predominant mentality was that data and applications needed to be “kept on premise” as they had in the past.

Incremental progress, spurred by pilot projects with cloud service providers, began to help change those widely held views, he said.

“One of the things we found is that cloud is sort of different,” Vietmeyer said. “This was a cultural change from how the department approached things in the past, and one thing slowing us down is how we are handling these changes.”

Incremental progress has had some net positive effects. For example, Vietmeyer said the Pentagon found the administration’s “cloud-first” policy turned out to be the wrong approach for many of its legacy applications as many workloads “didn’t fit well” into 100-percent cloud solutions. So instead, DOD settled on a hybrid approach.

The U.S. Navy – perhaps the most aggressive military agency in pursuing emerging technologies – has cultural challenges on top of other tech hurdles, according to Deputy CIO Janice Haith.

“We have server huggers, and they’re creating us a challenge,” Haith said. “We’re going to have to make some decisions.”

As much as $7 billion of the Obama administration’s 2017 IT budget is designated for cloud computing or types of provisioned services.