by Kenneth Corbin

Government Cloud Use Requires a Culture Shift

News Analysis
Jul 11, 20143 mins
Cloud ComputingGovernmentGovernment IT

If government CIOs are the only voice in their agency championing the shift to cloud computing, it can be a lonely fight. That's why leaders say they need support from the upper echelons of their agencies as well as the business units.

WASHINGTON – If the government is to realize its goal of running an agile, largely cloud-based technology operation, it will require buy-in from all corners of the agency, senior technology executives said at a government IT conference on Wednesday.

Barry West, CIO of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, describes that process as “socializing cloud on the business side,” and it can be a lonely fight without support at the highest reaches of the agency.

“You have to really have a sponsor in your organization that believes in cloud and is willing to take some risk into new areas that they may not have been in before,” West says. That executive sponsor should sit at the CIO level or higher (director, administrator, secretary, deputy secretary, chief management officer or the like), he adds.

[ Analysis: Is the Federal Government Ready to Embrace the Cloud? ]

“You have to have somebody that’s really partnered with that CIO that’s going to take some of the risk and challenges and be willing to work with some of the other folks in the organization that may be not so comfortable with cloud or not being able to see their data in their own data center,” West says.

Looking for Repeatable Solutions That Everyone Can Use

Government IT officials often talk of the challenges of introducing disruptive technologies into a culture that resists major upheaval. Many of those tensions are on bright display in the transition to cloud computing, despite directives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prioritizing the cloud.

At the Department of the Interior, for instance, the office of the CIO circulated a memo explaining that any new requests for IT would be evaluated with a preference for cloud solutions, delivering that message following the government-wide promulgation of OMB’s so-called “cloud first” policy.

“The first thing we would look at is, ‘Is this a viable candidate for the cloud?” says Deputy Interior CIO Lawrence Gross. If the project wasn’t a good fit for the cloud, for whatever reason, Gross’ team would see if it could acquire the technology from a vendor with whom the department already had a blanket purchase agreement.

[ Related: Google, Microsoft in ‘2-Horse Race’ for Government Cloud Contracts ]

In either case, the CIO’s policy means shifting the way that employees in the business units of the departments were expected to think about IT. Gross explains that he and his team have been trying to get employees to think beyond the confines of their bureau or sub-agency when considering a new tech deployment and, instead, look toward an adaptable – if not repeatable – IT solution that could have broad application to other parts of the department.

“We wanted to try to move away from the whole shrink-wrap idea of buying IT in individual blocks, but we’re finding that the biggest challenge we’re having is organizational maturity,” Gross says.

“We’ve pretty much changed the mindset within the department of how do you go about buying IT,” he adds. “But we really have to continue to push and push to work on the organizational culture and to work on the organizational maturity until we can get to the point where we understand that we are in fact one enterprise.”