First Person

GSA and the cloud broker model

Mary Davie

The assistant commissioner of integrated technology services clarifies GSA's role and plans for supporting agencies' move to the cloud.

To deliver on its mission to provide the best value to the federal government and taxpayers, the General Services Administration explores any acquisition strategy or business model that can save the government time and money and allow it to gain access to critical technologies faster than ever before.

To that end, GSA — in collaboration with NASA and the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, and Defense — published a request for information in July 2012 to explore the idea of a cloud brokerage. The RFI was issued in an effort to gain input from industry on how GSA could better deploy a cloud services brokerage to maximize the government's adoption and efficient use of cloud computing services.

It is worth noting that the concept of a cloud broker covers a number of roles that Gartner, a leading expert on IT markets, has summarized as aggregator, integrator and customizer. Each of those roles can entail a number of functions. Our current research is looking into each role and function and determining which, if any, are appropriate for GSA's role in acquisition support for cloud procurement and services for the government.

If our market research does not indicate value to the government in proceeding with a broker-based offering, then we will not proceed.

Various implementation models are possible and were proposed in the RFI responses. The cloud broker need not be a holistically outsourced entity subsuming all roles, nor could it in the government space under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Other models include GSA as the broker deploying software tools to leverage greater spending power with service providers, and still others deal with integration and customization services providing broad cloud migration support to agencies.

One of the potential benefits of cloud brokerage services is that the brokers could identify competitive services and provide ongoing competition among cloud providers to encourage both price reductions and continual updates of the technology.

To understand how a cloud broker, in any of the various roles identified, might improve government success in using cloud computing, GSA has sought insight from independent research. For example, through a worldwide survey, Gartner identified that more than 40 percent of IT managers believe that a cloud broker service adds value when selecting a cloud service provider.

Evaluating industry input

Interest in the government's RFI was extremely high. The RFI information day had more than 140 participants from more than 60 industry partners looking to share their knowledge.

A diverse mix of businesses formally responded to the RFI, whose language was purposely broad in scope to elicit suggestions on possible approaches. GSA received varied interpretations of the potential scope. We received:

• 81 responses — 54 percent from large businesses, 42 percent from small businesses and 4 percent from midsize businesses.

• 1,481 pages of information.

Of the 81 respondents:

• 77 percent were considered to be in favor of a cloud brokerage model.

• 11 percent were neutral.

• 12 percent were against the model.

GSA conducted Round 1 deep-dive discussions with a number of RFI respondents, including those who were against the concept, in February. GSA then selected a subset of those respondents for Round 2 discussions with the participation of representatives of the original brainstorming group.

In addition to demonstrating tools and solutions, those discussions focused on studying and evaluating different cloud brokerage models and how GSA and federal agencies could benefit. Some of the most valuable information we received were use cases on how cloud brokerage models would actually work, how they are being deployed today and the toolsets being used today.

Next steps

As a cross-government business model, cloud brokerage is new to government, but the idea is already in use. At the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, officials have adopted a cloud brokerage model called YOURcloud. In addition, the Texas Department of Information Resources has implemented and extended a pilot cloud brokerage program.

Other agencies are also exploring the cloud brokerage landscape. The Defense Information Systems Agency released its own RFI in 2012 to explore enterprise cloud brokerage services for DOD and recently announced that the organization had reached initial operational capability. And both HHS and DHS are conducting market research into the adoption of a cloud brokerage model.

GSA has engaged with other government agencies that have implemented a cloud broker model, including NNSA and Texas, to obtain an understanding of their experiences and gather lessons learned.

At GSA, we are currently gearing up to launch the cloud broker proof-of-concept (POC) phase. We have already engaged cornerstone stakeholder agencies — such as DHS, HHS, GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and potentially Justice — that will participate in shaping and evaluating the implementation to help guide next steps and determine a viable model.

GSA expects to release a solicitation for the POC phase, which will implement tools and processes to demonstrate technical and operational capabilities and identify challenges. If the POC phase demonstrates the path to a viable model for GSA and our cornerstone stakeholders, we will then develop a full concept of operations and a business case to seek support for an acquisition to pursue any future offerings related to cloud services brokers.

GSA will not be outsourcing our intermediary role to the private sector.

About the Author

Mary Davie is the assistant commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). The Federal Acquisition Service provides buying platforms and acquisition services to federal, state and local governments for a broad range of items from office supplies to motor vehicles to information technology and telecommunications products and services. As an organization within FAS, ITS provides access to a wide range of commercial and custom IT products, services and solutions.

Since 2011, Mary has led a highly skilled workforce that manages more than 7,000 contracts providing IT and telecommunications products, services and solutions critical to defense and civilian agencies’ success. Under her leadership, ITS’ contracts are the go-to source for technology solutions that also helped agencies meet the 25 Point IT Reform Plan requirements, small business and socio-economic goals; and the policy mandates of “Cloud First”, shared services, efficiency and cyber security.

Mary served as FAS Acting Commissioner from August 2012 - February 2013. In this capacity, she set strategic direction and oversaw the delivery of more than $50 billion of products, services and solutions designed to save taxpayer dollars while helping agencies more efficiently achieve their missions.

In 2006, Mary was named assistant commissioner for FAS’ Assisted Acquisition Services, which provides customized acquisition, project and financial management services for large and/or complex IT and professional services solutions. In 2009, she launched the BetterBuy Project, which was one of the first attempts to use social media to gain the public’s ideas on how to make the federal acquisition process more open, collaborative and transparent.

During her 25-year career, Mary has held numerous leadership positions that put her at the crossroads of the IT community. A major contributor and supporter of the American Council for Technology, Mary served as its president from June 2011 to May 2012. In 2004, GSA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy selected her to co-lead the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative with the Department of Treasury, where she led 23 federal agencies in developing government-wide acquisition strategies for commonly purchased goods and services.

Mary is a recipient of Federal Computer Week’s Fed 100, the Presidential Rank Meritorious Executive Award, is a sought-after speaker in the IT acquisition community and is frequently interviewed in the government IT market trade press. FedTech has recognized Mary’s "Great Government through Technology" blog as one of the 50 Must-Read Federal IT Blogs.

Mary has two Bachelor of Science degrees in business finance and business management from Virginia Tech, and a Master of Business Administration with a focus in technology management from the University of Phoenix.

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