Vivek Kundra released his 25-point plan to reform federal IT a little more than five years ago, which is a short time for some industries, but a lifetime in the world of information technology.
The plan focused on how to fix many areas of federal technology, but perhaps its most significant takeaway was a cloud-first strategy for agencies.
While that may seem common in the public sector today, Kundra’s mandate felt revolutionary at the time. Back then, federal IT leaders discussed the cloud’s viability as a serious business tool, but a full implementation seemed years away.
Kundra’s plan initially tackled low-hanging fruit, such as email and human resource systems. But the day he truly envisioned is now here.
Cloud computing models continue to mature, alongside users. According to MeriTalk, 53 percent of federal users worry about becoming locked in to a cloud contract, hurting adoption. As more agencies dive in and see the technology’s potential, more will follow.
The cloud represents not only a smart way to save money on commodity IT, but also a transformative technology that allows improvements in speed and efficiency, improving how government serves citizens.
When Kundra first made his announcement, feds openly worried about security in the cloud. Government IT leaders were accustomed to managing, hosting and fixing their own systems, if not internally then at least through a contracted vendor. Proximity became confused with security as leaders sought complete control over their systems; however, that structure failed time and again. With IT leaders focused almost exclusively on system ownership, IT spending continued to rise while functionality flatlined.
Kundra, an outsider to federal government when President Obama named him the first U.S. CIO, saw through those challenges, looking to the cloud not as a lifeboat, but as a means to align government more closely with private-sector advances.
As IT managers worried that the cloud would prove unable to protect sensitive information or their systems at large, Kundra’s mandate came at an opportune time.
Those early cloud concerns have been addressed. Providers have since demonstrated they can keep data safe, and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program provides a reliable way for agencies to know what providers they can trust. Most high-profile security breaches in government today play out on those older systems.
Early adopters in government harnessed cloud technology to save money and bring efficiency. After tackling those issues, agencies have entered the next phase, where cloud becomes an asset.
For government, the cloud offers a means to better serve citizens, through faster services as well as through more efficient use of public funds.
The Health and Human Services Department offers a good example. During an outbreak of Ebola in the summer of 2015, the department used mobile and social information to map the global spread of the disease.
IDC announced recently that 80 percent of future cloud applications would be data-sensitive. For the federal government, that means the creation and recording of massive amounts of data.
Agencies’ ability to harness Big Data rests primarily in the cloud. Cloud-based analytic capabilities offer government much-needed visibility into wide swaths of information, generated by energy and transportation, health and medicine and more. For all the successes agencies have realized through cloud computing in recent years, the best is yet to come. Cloud-first thinking, in many ways, was only the start.