Getting to 'yes' in the federal cloud

Cloud computing must offer more compelling operational benefits before we see it be embraced

Mark A. Forman is a principal at KPMG, where he is leader of the firm’s Federal Performance & Technology Practice. He was e-gov and information technology administrator at the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration.

FCW and GovLoop surmise that "Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra wants all agencies to jump into the cloud," but wonder if he can put them off the plane because "he doesn’t really have the incentives or sanctions he needs to make this happen."

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.

The FCW Challenge

This article is part of the FCW Challenge, a joint project between FCW and GovLoop, a social network for government employees. This article, and a selection of the best comments, will be published in the June 14 print edition of Federal Computer Week. To learn more about the FCW Challenge, click here.

Other topics up for debate in the FCW Challenge:

Government social networks are Towers of Babel, doomed to topple
The Open-Government Plan is Vaporware 2.0
Acquisition 2.0 will give ethics officers the heebie-jeebies
The federal workplace will never change. Telework? Fuggedaboudit!
Cybersecurity: This is a job for McGruff the Crime Dog

At about that same 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.


About the Author

Mark Forman is an accomplished Executive with more than 29 years of government management reform experience, including a Presidential appointment to be the first U.S. Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology, the Federal Government’s Chief Information Officer. Mr. Forman is currently the CEO of Government Transaction Services, Inc. which was established in 2010 to be the leading provider of cloud-based business process and transaction services supporting organizations that do business with the federal government. Government Transaction Services’ products reduce administrative burdens and simplify interactions with government, as well provide on-line practitioner communities.


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