Why the feds keep stumbling in the cloud

Agency CIOs are mandated to adopt the cloud, but are hampered by insufficient skills, cloud-washing contractors, and unclear rationale for change

Although federal agencies have expanded their use of cloud services, many challenges remain for full implementation, says Citizens Against Government Waste in its 2012 review of the federal cloud efforts.

There is some good news. According to a 2012 survey of federal civilian and defense personnel, $5.5 billion had been saved through the use of cloud computing technology. However, the survey respondents also stated that wider cloud adoption could have saved as much as $12 billion.

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There's bad news as well: The review cites a July 2012 Government Accountability Office report that found several challenges facing agencies seeking to adopt cloud computing. These obstacles include meeting federal security requirements, obtaining guidance on deployment, acquiring internal cloud knowledge and expertise, certifying and accrediting vendors, ensuring data portability and interoperability, overcoming cultural barriers, and procuring services on a consumption or on-demand basis.

These findings jibe with my experience. Most government agencies would love to move to cloud computing, but the security and regulatory issues are so, um, cloudy that most agencies don't understand what's required of them and any cloud technology provider they use. In light of the confusion, they choose to kick the can further down the road.

The simple fact is that the people running government IT don't have the skills or the money to begin the cloud shift. If they're forced to migrate to cloud systems, they're likely to stumble -- a bad career move if you're a government CIO.

Most government agencies need guidance on deployment, including assistance through the lifecycle of cloud implementation and migration. Although some federal IT contractors are trying to step up to the challenge, the vast majority have merely cloud-washed their government IT services groups and only add to the confusion.

Then there's the issue of culture. You need to address the value of change when considering cloud computing. In many respects, the government tells agency CIOs they should change rather than arguing a case that would make sense to government IT leaders. I've never succeeded in forcing a technological change on anyone without a lot of education first.

I suspect the government will plod along in its movement to the cloud. Although that's better than nothing, the pace needs to increase substantially.

This article, "Why the feds keep stumbling in the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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