John Everett, executive director for demand management in the Office of Information and Technology at the Veterans Affairs Department, discusses how agencies can move to the cloud.

Apr 19 2018

How to Break the Cultural Logjam on Federal Cloud Adoption

Officials from the VA, DISA and other agencies offer strategies to spur cloud migration amid cultural resistance.

The White House wants agencies to accelerate their adoption of commercial cloud capabilities, and numerous agencies have gotten the message. The problem that seems to get in the way though is a persistent one: cultural resistance to cloud migration.

How can agencies overcome that hurdle? Federal cloud leaders say that those who want to push their agencies to adopt cloud technologies need to educate agency IT leaders, reassure them about cloud security and minimize the influence of people who don’t see value in changing, in part by demonstrating “quick wins” in the cloud.

Those were some of the key takeaways from keynote and panel discussions at FCW’s Cloud Summit: Accelerating Cloud Adoption in Government event on April 18 in Washington, D.C.

John Everett, executive director for demand management in the Office of Information and Technology at the Veterans Affairs Department, says that many federal IT leaders and IT offices still think of cloud as purely an Infrastructure as a Service play, something that will get them out of their data centers and allow them to avoid thinking about space, power and cooling. Obviously, cloud is more than that, and includes Platform and Software as a Service implementations.

The goal of cloud proponents in government, he said, is to “help move our culture from the stagnant one it is in to one that is vibrant and useful for our government organizations.”

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Cultural Hurdles to Government Cloud Adoption

Many IT leaders are still operating in the “culture of the unknown,” Everett said, in which they do not have a detailed understanding of their agency’s applications or systems or how they fit together. Agencies’ organizational cultures are often focused on their key IT systems and cloud is still not a priority, he said.

A key stumbling block to cloud adoption is a lack of buy-in from agency leadership and key stakeholders, according to Everett. “If your leadership doesn’t understand cloud, they will be less likely to make decisions in your favor,” he said. “Leadership needs to be educated on what the possibilities are and how the cloud actually works.”

Additionally, it is often difficult to move agencies from a capital expenditure model, in which agencies make outlays for servers and data center equipment, to an operational expense model suited to the cloud, in which agencies pay for what they use in terms of computing, storage and networking.

Security is a major issue that agencies need to overcome, officials said. “If we don’t get a handle on that up front and make that a key part of the culture change, then we’ll never get that done,” Everett said.

John Hale, chief of cloud services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, noted that security is a “huge concern” Defense Department officials have about the cloud. “It goes back to culture,” he said. “People don’t understand the security profile of a commercial cloud.”

Hale noted that for a cloud service provider to work with the DOD, they first must get an authorization from the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, and then get a DOD Cloud Provisional Authorization. Hale noted that DOD builds on the FedRAMP certification and performs another “assessment to meet additional controls for housing DOD data,” Hale said. The additional certification should tell DOD IT leaders that the commercial cloud offering is certified to store agency data, he said.

How Agencies Can Make Headway on Cloud Migration

Everett said cloud proponents must find ways to minimize the influence of people who “don’t want change or don’t see value in the cloud” and who “keep the culture from moving forward.”

Cloud supporters should actively communicate the benefits of the cloud: its lower costs, ability to be updated quickly and elasticity to accommodate different levels of computing and storage demands.

Agencies should aim to minimize “server huggers” and their contractor support. And a great way to overcome resistance is to demonstrate quick wins, Everett said.

Everett said a way to have the cloud gain favor in an agency is to clearly demonstrate the return on investment from a cloud migration. He cited a application that used to run in a VA data center but became the first native cloud app the VA used. “As soon as it went into the cloud we saw an 85 percent reduction in cost over what we were spending in a data center,” he said. There are roughly 358,000 regular users of that application, according to Everett and half of the VA’s healthcare apps run through the original app. Everett said it used to take the VA 90 days to make a change to the core app and now it takes about a day.

Ed Simcox, deputy CTO of the Health and Human Services Department, said HHS has numerous cloud initiatives going on and has earned some quick cloud wins, including moving to DevOps environments for specific purposes that were very vendor-centric. That is the way a lot of agencies “are dipping their toe in the pool, per se,” he said.

Phil Goldstein

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