Are Agencies Tracking Cloud Savings Benefits Well? GAO Says No.

While Federal agencies are making progress in moving to the cloud, challenges exist in tracking the cost savings benefits of those moves due to a lack of agency-level guidance and confusion about tracking under guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Monday, May 6.

GAO found that overall, agencies have made more investments in cloud technologies since 2015. At two agencies, the investment in cloud increased by more than 20 percent, while eight other agencies reported at least some increases in cloud investments. While six agencies reported no change or a decline in cloud usage, three of those agencies told GAO that inconsistent reporting – and changes to the definition of cloud – was a factor in the reduced reported spend on cloud.

In total, GAO found that the 16 agencies surveyed reported $291 million saved due to their use of cloud since 2015. But if that number seems low, here is one reason: in total, 84 percent of the cloud investments at the 16 surveyed agencies did not have cost savings reported to GAO.

“These agencies identified issues in tracking and reporting cloud spending and savings data, including not having consistent processes in place to do so. Agencies also noted that OMB guidance did not require them to explicitly report savings from cloud implementations and, therefore, they had to specifically collect this data to meet GAO’s request. As a result of these identified issues, it is likely that agency-reported cloud spending and savings figures were underreported,” GAO’s report states.

On agency-level guidance, GAO found that while 11 agencies mandate the tracking of cost savings, two agencies do not capture all savings associated with cloud, and three agencies lack cloud metrics guidance at the department level. Even among agencies tracking their spending, GAO noted that tracking was performed on an ad hoc basis for certain investments, leaving cost savings uncertain for many of the agency cloud projects.

Regarding OMB guidance, GAO noted that the Cloud First policy does not require explicit reporting of savings from cloud investments. While the IT Dashboard requires reporting of cost savings from IT in total, cloud is not explicitly called out, which agencies identified as an area of uncertainty.

OMB responded that it chose to focus on total IT savings to reduce the reporting burden on agencies, while GAO pointed to the problem that policy raises – reduced visibility into cloud use.

GAO recommended that OMB require agencies to report savings from the use of cloud computing – a recommendation with which OMB neither stated agreement nor disagreement.

GAO also recommended agencies make changes to their guidance, and all agencies but the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor agreed with all of GAO’s recommendations. Labor neither agreed nor disagreed, and DoD disagreed with the need to establish a mechanism to track cloud savings and cost avoidance.

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