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By Steve Kelman

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FUD surrounds cloud computing procurement process

Recently Alan Joch wrote a piece on the FCW website, called "Is Government Procurement Ready for the Cloud?" The piece was one of the five-most read and emailed on the FCW website for two days running.
"Many IT procurement practices and contracting vehicles," Alan wrote, "were designed to help managers provision hardware and software, not on-demand services. Can the current acquisition practices translate easily to the dynamic world of cloud computing?" The article quoted a technical manager at DHS who was worried about the ability of the procurement system to accommodate to cloud computing, though it also quoted Larry Allen, longtime head of the Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents vendors on the GSA schedules, saying he didn't see a problem.
What was frustrating about the article, frankly, was the lack of specifics. The only actual example of a "procurement problem" the article cited was a protest over a requirement in one procurement that, for security reasons, the cloud infrastructure be hosted in the US. That requirement is not a "procurement problem'; it is a policy decision about risk that the procuring agency made.  (Maybe the procurement problem was the ability to protest. One may have different views about bid protests, and I am hardly known as one of the great supporters of protests, but this is hardly a special problem the procurement system has in buying cloud computing.)
The article was an example of a genre of statements that one often hears about how rigidities in the procurement system create barriers to buying certain kinds of products and services. Often, these statements are not accompanied by examples of specific problems. They appeal to, and exacerbate, a climate of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) that many in the government feel when they are going to have to deal with the procurement system.
It is possible that there are procurement regulations or practices that throw roadblocks in the way of intelligent procurement of cloud computing services. If so, I hope blog readers will post comments saying what they are -- which will offer progressive people in the procurement system the opportunity to put on their thinking caps to see if ways to unblock these obstacles can be found. But all too often, consumers of the procurement system get paralyzed by worries of roadblocks they think the system creates that in fact aren't there. The fear also makes it more difficult for program people constructively and collegially to deal with their counterparts in procurement or, worse, to avoid the procurement system until the last moment -- like getting an infected tooth pulled -- which only makes things much worse.
Program and technical customers, and folks in contracting shops, need to realize they are part of the same team and to work to overcome the FUD factor.

Posted on Feb 02, 2012 at 12:09 PM

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Reader comments

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 anderson12 india

Too many IT organizations are rushing to embrace cloud computing without putting much thought into governance.

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 J.Johnson

Steve, Could agree with you more on this. I am a CO working on Cloud and know this issue first hand. The issue isn't with the hammer that a CO uses but the design of what program offices want itself. CO's don't write requirements, and there is a mentality on the program side (and the CO side as well) that assumes the same procurement rules applied to their system procurement as with the Cloud. The trouble that they run into is that they are attempting to procure a utility with a system mindset. Until IT shops realize that they have just gotten into the utility business rather than the system business, and write their requirements accordingly, there is going to be some cognitive dissonance as a result. It will take time for people to start really understanding and processing this shift (I am guessing 3-5 years), and it is a shift that was never thought of when Vivek started pushing these policies.

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 Meredith Washington, DC

The problem is not with the FAR per se, the problem is that the government doesn't have anyone on its side to negotiate hard against the cloud vendors and actually get what the government needs. The vendors have done a great job insulating themselves from risk and the government needs to push back using real contract negotiations run by Feds who actually know what they are buying. Sorry GSA, not good enough.

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 Steve Kelman

Thank you, anonymous reader about Far 1.102 -- I agree completely!!! One of the most-important statements in the FAR. :)

Thu, Feb 2, 2012

All should read FAR 1.102 Statement of guiding principles for the Federal Acquisition System.

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