The U.S. government earlier this week gained two valuable aids for its transition to new technologies enabled by cloud computing. TechAmerica, responding to requests and encouragement from the Obama administration, released a set of 14 recommendations to guide government through this transition, along with a “Buyer’s Guide” for federal agencies carrying out the administration’s Cloud First policy.
I am personally proud of these two products because I have been privileged to lead some of the efforts that produced them. As I wrote in a previous post, I have served as one of two vice-chairs of TechAmerica’s Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud, otherwise known as CLOUD2. The commission comprises 71 IT leaders, mostly from industry, who are helping the government understand how best to move forward in the inevitable – and ultimately highly beneficial – shift to the cloud.
The Commission has undertaken this work because we believe, in the words of Michael Capellas, chairman and CEO of VCE and the Commission’s co-chair, “Faster adoption of cloud computing will strengthen the United States’ leadership position in the global marketplace and ignite creation of jobs that will be in high demand over the next decade.”
Cloud computing is a highly disruptive technology that enables innovative new ways of doing things. The potential improvements in productivity, entrepreneurial growth and our standard of living are enormous. The Commission’s 14 recommendations address current barriers to adoption, innovation and growth in the cloud. Some of these barriers have prevented government agencies from moving to the cloud; others have hindered commercial deployment. The recommendations cluster around four themes: (1) Trust, (2) Transnational Data Flows, (3) Transparency and (4) Transformation.
Trust and transparency are familiar issues with respect to the cloud. Work remains to be done to strengthen security, identity management and information sharing in the cloud. Also, metrics for cloud offerings must be developed so that customers can understand what they’re buying.
The transnational nature of the cloud leads quickly to matters of national sovereignty and international law. A Brookings report released earlier this week explores the collision of cloud computing and export-control laws, but the difficulties hardly end there. The Commission’s recommendations in this area are complex. They also are urgent. The United States is both a major consumer of the cloud and a leader in cloud markets and innovation. If we are not proactive in addressing issues of transnational data flows, we may impede the global process of cloud adoption.
A major focus in the Transformation area is the federal procurement process, codified in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The Commission’s research found that FAR is flexible enough for acquiring cloud services. What’s needed is more a change in mind-set not only among agencies, but also Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). We further recommend establishing fiscal incentives to encourage agencies to implement cloud solutions. Improvements in infrastructure are also important, including the move to IPv6 – the cloud depends upon reliable and modern networks.
Finally, transformation cannot happen without education and training. Transitioning to the cloud will require new capabilities for business and agency leaders, acquisition and IT workforces. We recommend that government, industry and academia continue to collaborate to develop and distribute the necessary educational resources.
I feel strongly that the work of CLOUD2 is important. The U.S. can achieve global leadership if we act boldly and create an environment of cooperation among government, academia and the private sector. By embracing the cloud, government can demonstrate, through example, the unprecedented opportunity this transformational technology offers to improve government performance and reduce IT costs.