by Kenneth Corbin

Federal CIOs Look to Platform-as-a-Service for Software Development

Nov 20, 20134 mins

A new survey of federal IT executives indicates strong interest in hosted application development to cut cost and improve efficiencies, though PaaS adoption currently remains weak.

For all the talk in the government IT community about shifting to a more service-oriented approach, there has been little movement toward platform-as-a-service (PAAS)technologies.

Federal CIOs Look to PaaS for Software Development

But that could soon change, according to a new survey of more than 150 federal IT executives.

“Federal IT is fundamentally broken. So how do we euthanize yesterday’s IT and consolidate for tomorrow when there’s no new money for development?”

–MeriTalk report

At present, just 12 percent of respondents say that their federal agency employs PaaS for hosted application development, but 71 percent say that they are either considering the technology or currently moving forward with a transition to it.

Feds Be Nimble (and Save Money

Federal IT leaders see the potential for significant cost savings in a more nimble development environment, according to the survey, underwritten by Red Hat and conducted by the government IT consortium MeriTalk.

[Related: Federal CIO Calls for Government-Wide ‘IT as a Service’]

Widely deployed PaaS technologies have the potential to cut federal government IT costs by $20.5 billion annually, slashing yearly tech expenditures by about a quarter, while significantly hastening development cycles, the survey concludes.

“Using PaaS can save time, and time is money,” says Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist with Red Hat’s U.S. public sector division. “In an era of federal budget cuts and continued belt tightening, this new way of software development and deployment represents a significant opportunity for agencies to be more agile and much more fiscally responsible.”

[Related: Feds Look to Big Data to Position ‘Government as a Platform’]

Government IT executives see in PaaS technologies an opportunity to funnel scant resources away from maintaining legacy systems and accelerate the development of new systems, a process that, in the current environment, MeriTalk says is “glacial.”

The authors of the report cite a Government Accountability Office report that concluded that 70 percent of the government’s IT budget, or $56 billion, is spent on maintaining legacy systems. Survey respondents estimate that 41 percent of their software applications need to be updated or replaced.

Fixing a Broken IT Structure for Pennies

“Federal IT is fundamentally broken,” the authors of the MeriTalk report argue. “So,” they ask, “how do we euthanize yesterday’s IT and consolidate for tomorrow when there’s no new money for development?”

[Related: Government Networks Unprepared for Cloud, Big Data Transitions]

A PaaS hosted development environment, they argue, could allow for development and testing for “pennies on the dollar.”

In addition to the cost savings and hastening the development cycle, federal IT leaders believe that moving to a PaaS environment could support other headline federal technology priorities, of which there are many.

For instance, 92 percent of respondents say that PaaS “offers vital support for cloud computing,” and 90 percent believe that it will help facilitate their efforts to consolidate government data centers.

Solid majorities of the respondents also believe that PaaS will help their agencies capitalize on shared services (79 percent), support mission objectives (77 percent) and take advantage of big data (73 percent).

PaaS Security Both a Plus and a Minus

Asked about the barriers of implementing a PaaS environment, 67 percent of the executives respondents polled cite security as the biggest concern. At the same time, 41 percent believe that PaaS could actually improve their agency’s security posture, and 83 percent of those who have already made the move to PaaS say that the transition didn’t disrupt the security of agency data.

Federal tech executives also report that contractual lock-ins with current vendors are an impediment to adopting PaaS technologies, and they see challenges in winning support from the highest levels of agency leadership.

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for Follow Kenneth on Twitter @kecorb. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.