Cloud computing: Skeptics still hold the floor

Without demonstrable benefits, readers aren't yet sold on cloud computing

Up for Debate

The expert view: Getting to 'Yes' in the federal cloud

The community view: Selected comments from readers

Original discussions on FCW and Govloop

Twitter me this: Governnment 2.0 in 140 characters

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We put six Gov 2.0 issues up for debate in the FCW Challenge:  Open government plans, social networking, acquisition 2.0, the IT agendaworkplace and cybersecurity.  We got a great sampling of ideas and opinions and present them here along with perspectives of community thought leaders.

Like many an outsider who first sets eyes on the vast federal information technology landscape, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra saw hundreds of separate but gnawingly similar city-states of IT prowess, each an overbuilt tribute to government perseverance. Impressive in scale, no doubt — but highly efficient? Not a chance.

Kundra thinks the road to IT efficiency and, yes, better government, lies in the shared-services model of cloud computing. But thinking and doing are two different things.

The call to overhaul how government handles its business — IT and beyond — is reminiscent of a previous makeover, said Mark Forman, a principal at KPMG and leader of the company's Federal Performance and Technology Practice. He was e-government and IT administrator at the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration at a time when government began to grapple with the move from a purely brick-and-mortar operation to one that breathes online services.

Forman said he doubts that edicts will move government to the cloud. Instead, the onus first is on the cloud — the industry and the idea — to earn and demonstrate its value as a superior way of doing IT. To most FCW and GovLoop readers who commented on our topic, the benefits of the cloud, as it looks today, are still a little, well, cloudy.

Click through the following pages to see the expert view and comments from the community.

Getting to 'Yes' in the federal cloud

By Mark A. Forman

In my opinion, incentives and sanctions aren’t the issue, and mandates don’t cause lasting change in agency performance.

Cloud computing will be widely adopted and will transform the way federal agencies operate. But it won’t happen until managers — non-IT and IT — figure out how to exploit cloud computing models and then when those insights drive spending on cloud computing.

The shift to e-government technologies is instructive. In the late 1990s, private-sector companies were forced to adopt e-commerce and e-business or face extinction. They had to learn to embrace new operating models that were enabled by the disruptive nature of a major technology trend. For example, Amazon revolutionized retail book sales, so legacy storefronts had to do more than just put up a Web site. They had to change their business model.

At about that time, government agencies launched thousands of Web sites — more than 22,000 had been created by the time I showed up at OMB in 2001. These were wonderful efforts, but they didn’t change the business models of government. That’s because the senior appointees were running agencies, not companies that had to adapt to the Schumpeterian brutality of creative destruction brought on by the Web. Leaders in the private sector have an entirely different perspective on dealing with disruptive technologies such as e-commerce and cloud computing.

Chief information officers should be catalysts for change. But even though the IT Management Reform Act of 1996 envisioned CIOs as change agents, rarely have they been given the authority to fulfill that role.

Cloud computing must offer more compelling operational benefits before we see a major change. The transition to e-government occurred when a group of appointees from the private sector came to government having just successfully negotiated the shift to a world built around e-commerce. When they arrived in key government leadership positions, they brought different knowledge and experience than the people they replaced. Most importantly, where they found agencies doing business like a company from a bygone era, they used their lessons from the private sector to do something about it.

But it wasn’t just the newcomers who drove adopting e-government. When I took office in 2001, I heard from hundreds of federal employees about the gap between the tools they had to do their jobs compared with their nongovernment counterparts. They embraced change much more than critics expected.

The same pattern of change could happen, I believe, with cloud computing in government.

Reader comments

Editor's note: Readers comments have been edited for length, clarity and style.

Bean Counters’ Blessings

Business case? Are you kidding? The case has been clearly defined by directors, chief financial officers, CIOs, and program managers: inordinate cost of current IT operations, lack of innovation to keep pace with today's technology cycles, and employees who choose to use other tools available on the Web just so they can get their jobs done faster and be more productive. If information sharing and collaboration is such a high priority, secure Web-based tools perform this function much better than legacy desktop applications. Look at the billions the federal government is spending just providing common IT services, not to mention trying to refresh the desktops/laptops every year.

— Anonymous

Control Issues

This is a tad more difficult, as was rather accurately described in a Redmond Magazine online blog. Cloud computing may fundamentally change the way IT professionals do their jobs. Smart IT pros will be prepared for the upheaval to come. I suspect that this is going to make the power struggle over the distribution of PCs to every desktop, thus the distribution of CIOs' power, look like children playing cops and robbers in the playground. Most CIOs who are not willing to change the way they have done business since the mid `80s are going to fight this with all their energy, especially after the epic battle that was won by the technical people to recentralize their power early this century.

What the final outcome might be, who knows? I have seen some minor indications in some agencies that some of the technical leadership who were all about are control slightly loosing their grip, but we've got a long way to go.

— Henry Brown

Security Check

No one wants to be the guinea pig for the ill-defined Kundra cloud. We saw the Bureau of Engraving and Printing article last week about how their Web sites that were outsourced to a third-party cloud got hacked and infected with sophisticated malware and had to be taken down after they infected many Web site visitors. Identifying the root cause and remediation appears to have been quite a difficult undertaking. Who needs the headache?

— Washington fed

The Defense Information Systems Agency has been doing cloud computing on the mainframe computers it maintains for the Defense Department for some time. It's a secure environment, and it works within DOD. Having private companies or government and private companies share a midtier server creates security issues that I don't believe either are prepared to deal with at this time.

— Erich Darr

After You

The federal government is barely able to jump into the 21st century, much less into the cloud. With every security issue causing department-level senior staff do a knee-jerk reaction and many times tying the hands of the IT community, there is no way that we will want to jump, much less step out. Good luck to anyone who wants us to stick our neck out and do what the civilian world is doing.

— Lynn

Location, Location, Location

The business case needs to be clear. It make more sense for data shared among multiple agencies, across different levels of government or sectors where it provides a clear advantage over agency-managed data storage. It also may make more sense with new lines of data.

— David Kuehn

Peter Principle

How is Government 2.0 like a government worker? Management will continue to promote it for years without any evidence it is actually working.

— Keith K.

Bottom Line

Why engage with a solution when the problem has not been defined accurately? Some agencies have also concluded that the cost savings or cost avoidance for the IT portfolio cannot be established. This is despite the fact that agencies had earlier engaged Gartner, wasting millions of dollars to conduct IT optimization studies.

When agencies can successfully establish a demonstrably clear cost savings and cost avoidance argument, then cloud computing as a solution achieving economy of scale driven by design considerations might be the inevitable choice. The mandate must be for the cost savings in IT infrastructure. The Gartner study provides some of the options.

— Srinidhi Boray

Smokescreen

We can't even be sure that everyone is talking about the same technology when cloud computing is the topic of discussion. This is just another silver bullet. Hey Kundra — you start coding while I see what the customer wants!

— Anonymous

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