Federal IT Execs Explain Focus On Cloud Costs, ‘Quick Wins’

Cloud computing

Federal IT executives from the Department of Energy and the United States Digital Service shared their experiences this week with cloud migrations and offered their lessons learned to help ease transitions to the cloud for other agencies, including the evaluation of cost structures and the importance of engineering “quick wins” from service transitions.

Pamela Isom, chief data officer and deputy CIO at the Department of Energy, said during a Nextgov webinar on Sept. 12 that her department was focused on “enhancing customer experiences, lowering costs and mitigating risks, which go hand in hand, increasing security, and unlocking data.”

She also noted that with multiple on-premises solutions nearing end of life, “we are taking advantage of the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to help us address some of these needs.”  In June, DoE received $15 million of TMF funding for an enterprise cloud email migration acceleration project.

Among Energy’s biggest challenges with the cloud has been the distributed and federated nature of the agency’s networks. “We’re taking advantage of the TIC (Trusted Internet Connections) architecture and looking to improve it,” Isom said. She also pointed to issues with existing policy constraining the department’s move to the cloud.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may have similar goals to the DoE, Kelly O’Connor, product manager for the United States Digital Service VA team, said her team is taking aim at releasing minimum viable products (MVPs).

“We’ve tried to roll out MVPs for our end-to-end migration process,” O’Connor said. “When you’re migrating hundreds of systems, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Taking an MVP to develop that approach is great, because we can launch something right out of the gate and then test it and get feedback and improve it.” And she noted that the VA stood up an office specifically for MVPs.

For VA, some of the major challenges of moving to the cloud have revolved around budgets. “We get a certain amount of dollars for new development and a certain amount of dollars for sustainment, and what that results in is this approach of launch and abandon. It doesn’t result in the best experience for users,” said O’Connor.

Another major issue involves the VA’s culture, she said. “I think VA has a really great in-house team of project managers, but I think product management is very immature in government,” she said.

Isom and O’Connor both offered their takeaways to other agencies approaching migration to cloud services. “When you’re working on any type of transformation initiative, you really want to focus on and identify some quick wins,” said Isom. She noted that business partners want to see value, and IT professionals should build that into their strategy.

“The first thing I would say is, understand your hosting security requirements,” said O’Connor. “I think the tendency is for people to overestimate and say they need the highest level of everything, and there’s a cost factor to that.”

However, both touched on the importance of working with a mature cloud service provider that can offer reliable security tools, and both emphasized the use of customer-focused development methods.

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