Cloud Success Starts at the Top

Mr.Thanakorn Kotpootorn/

Top-down support is “game-changer” for innovation efforts, federal tech leaders said.

As the government adopts cloud computing and leans into modernization, agency leadership must champion their IT offices, tech officials said.

“I will tell you the biggest game changer for us always has been that we have support from the top,” Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer Christine Calvosa told attendees at FCW’s Cloud Summit Tuesday. The commission’s leadership has helped snuff out resistance to the FCC’s cloud efforts.

“When we get support from the top and then other bureaus and offices go to them and say ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’ the top says, ‘No, you’re going to do this,’” Calvosa said.  

There’s a similar vibe at the State Department. Michelle Sparrow-Walker, the director of the department’s Systems and Integration Office, said it’s critical that organizations ensure that what they are doing in the cloud is actually tied to a business imperative and not just a unique IT capability that would simply be a “cool” thing to have—especially with limited funding.

“A lot of that happens as you start to get more top-down oversight, more governance and things like that around the cloud,” Sparrow-Walker said.

In the Defense Department, leadership puts the right amount of pressure on various organizations to move quicker and more efficiently toward innovation, John Hale, the chief of Defense Information Systems Agency’s Cloud Portfolio Office, said.

“From a larger DOD perspective, the deputy secretary of Defense is heavily involved in cloud adoption, so we brief him regularly about what we are doing, where we are going and what the current issues are. Then he works with those at his level,” Hale said. “So it’s literally the number two person within the Department of Defense overseeing what we are doing from a cloud adoption perspective.”

Hale added that without such oversight along with individuals at the top really pushing change, organizations and people are tempted to remain in their comfort zones, which frequently involves operating on outdated servers or using old technology.   

And in the Army, “absolute senior leader buy-in” has been a key to implementing the cloud in an expeditious manner while also reducing duplication, Thomas Sasala, chief data officer and director of operations and architecture of the Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 Department said.

Sasala noted they’ve established an IT oversight council to be used as its “primary governance body,” which is chaired by both the Army’s vice chief of staff and undersecretary.

“That’s a very significant and important fact: that’s the number two and the number four person in the Army,” Sasala said. “That’s the level of governance and oversight we are providing in the cloud environment.”

Sasala said this ensures that cloud migration and other IT efforts will be appropriately—and heavily—scrutinized. So now, when people offer various reasons for needing to stay in their old and inefficient data centers, they must make their arguments to a four-star general or a political appointee.

“And so that kind of changes the conversation a lot for a lot of people when they try to have it,” Sasala said.