He says that's primarily due to the fact that government agencies have to comply with more stringent security and privacy requirements. Moreover, Rubel says he believes that government agencies are still in the "data sorting" process -- that is, they're trying to figure out what kind of information can go into the cloud. Right now, "you can put 3-1-1 informational services in the public cloud, but you want to keep tax and revenue data in a private cloud," he says. Within the next three years, he predicts, we'll see government agencies figuring out how to best take advantage of the cloud.
The bad and the ugly
Public-sector CIOs have no qualms about discussing the ugly side of government computing. To them, it's a fact of life. Challenges related to parochialism, funding, politics, governance and more get in the way of progress, especially when it comes to cloud computing.
One of the biggest obstacles is the long-held belief that any given agency's needs are special and must be handled in a specific (and usually siloed) way.
"A state government is not all one entity," says Carlos Ramos, CIO of the California state government. "Some agencies report to the executive branch, some agencies are constitutionally mandated, and so they're managed differently." Nor, he says, do agencies like giving up control, even to colleagues in the public sector. Just as some citizens mistrust government, "sometimes government doesn't even trust government," he says.
"People focus on more on best practices than utilizing a common system to accommodate them," says Douglas Cotnoir, deputy state controller in Maine. "People in government interpret the rules for one group differently than they do for another. It depends on who your constituents are."
That may be true, but the problem can snowball in unintentional ways. For instance, the individual government agencies of the state of Virginia might each require accountability, but does that also mean the state needs 94 separate email systems?
Resistance to change is one of the biggest obstacles to cloud adoption by state and local governments, says Andrea Di Maio, an analyst specializing in public-sector issues at Gartner. "It depends on the maturity of the organization," she says. "Clients of ours who have experience in outsourcing have an easier time moving to the cloud."
Another obstacle is the way the reins of power change hands on a regular basis, whether in the governor's office or even on a municipal city council. "Every new elected official coming in wants to make an impact," says Steven Fletcher, CIO for the state of Utah. "But new officials don't think about operations, they think about programs like education and economic development. They're not paying attention to the most efficient way to provide services, which makes it difficult for the CIO to provide those services."
Sometimes regulations gum up the works. When John Letchford, CIO of the state of Massachusetts, decided to try cloud computing by moving the state's email system to a cloud service provider, he got more of a challenge than he had bargained for.
"Maybe this was naïve, but we thought email was simple," says Letchford. "But we found that we had to adhere to a variety of compliance rules, because you're touching every business function in some shape or form. It was like boiling the ocean." The RFP for moving the mail, which is still in progress, had to comply with IRS Publication 1075 (Tax Information Security Guidelines for Federal, State and Local Agencies), the Social Security Administration's Section 1128E (Health Care Fraud and Abuse Data Collection Program) and more than 100 state regulations.