Convincing your team to buy into the cloud

A can-do spirit has enabled the FCC to make a dramatic leap forward in IT modernization. What could this mean for your IT shop?

David Bray

The FCC's David Bray is blazing trails when it comes to consolidating disparate agency systems.

It's been nearly a year since the Federal Communications Commission moved 400 applications to the cloud — and 207 servers and thousands of cables from its headquarters to a commercial facility.

The ambitious Operation Server Lift happened over Labor Day weekend in 2015. YouTube videos set to the theme music of "Mission: Impossible" show employees working around the clock to disconnect the servers and move all the equipment onto trucks that left FCC headquarters at 3 a.m. for a commercial facility in West Virginia.

Everything went smoothly until the agency's IT employees reached the new site and realized they were looking at 55 hours of cabling work to reconnect the servers. CIO David Bray recalls that they did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves.

"People could have gotten angry or sad or paralyzed by the overwhelming task ahead, and I would have understood completely," he said. "What I celebrate is how they didn't. Instead, it was more like, 'What can we do to help?... Let's start running replacement cables. Let's get this done.'"

That can-do spirit has enabled the FCC to make a dramatic leap forward in IT modernization. Operating and maintaining 207 systems used to cost more than 85 percent of the IT budget; now those activities account for less than 50 percent. Along with relocating servers, the agency moved email and documents to the cloud via Microsoft's Office 365 and became the first federal agency to fully deploy the cloud-based suite.

And although undertaking new initiatives used to be a long and painful process, Bray's team recently produced a working, cloud-based prototype for a bureau in less than 48 hours with commercial cloud solutions.

To get to those efficiencies, however, the FCC IT team first had to be persuaded to reject the status quo. Bray said that when he became CIO in 2013, the average employee had been at the FCC for about 15 years. The move away from maintaining servers on-site would mean embarking on something completely new and giving up jobs those IT professionals had known for years.

At a meeting three months after his arrival as CIO, Bray said, only 15 percent of workers were excited about modernization, and another 40 to 45 percent were cautiously optimistic. Six months later, the sentiment among the team members had grown to 40 percent excited. And by the time the team met before executing Operation Server Lift, excitement had grown to 70 percent.

"I did offer to be the team's human flak jacket if they would rise to the occasion, be creative problem solvers and accept this challenging mission," Bray said. "And luckily for me... the team rallied with energy."

He said a culture of openness and bottom-up empowerment helped bring about that willingness to change. The team continues to hold meetings twice a week, during which "thank you" gifts are circulated to recognize individuals who have gone above and beyond. On Thursdays, they decorate a dinosaur called Thank-o-saurus Rex.

"It's these little things — the shared rituals that we do as a community — that make all the difference in bringing the team together," Bray said.