The Federal government has been espousing the benefits of the Cloud since the first Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, mandated “Cloud First” during the Obama administration. Cloud first was launched with the promise of increased efficiency, agility and innovation in government. The current CIO, Susan Kent, is promoting a “smart Cloud” strategy that focuses on security, procurement and workforce as key focus areas to help agencies “transform and embrace modern capabilities”. Implicit in the smart Cloud strategy is the acknowledgement that the benefits envisioned a decade ago by Cloud evangelists were not realized. Being “Cloud first” nor “Cloud smart” alone is not going to deliver innovative, mission impactful solutions. In addition to good strategy, we should work to transform the organizational culture through principled leadership rooted in collaboration and transparency.
Research from organizations like Deloitte, Forrester, Gartner and Mckinsey consistently find that culture change is the key to digital transformation that we seek. However, changing the organizational culture is not easy. CIOs should start the IT modernization journey by focusing on increasing engagement with the mission areas to determine mission priorities and risk tolerance before prescribing or promoting solutions. CIOs should actively encourage constant dialogue at all levels of the organization to determine if the policies and practices of today are delivering the results we envision for the future.
Some of us are guilty of professing expertise in every emerging technology, promising large cost savings, faster application delivery, uninterrupted service and eye popping scalability without fully understanding the needs of our customers or limitations and capabilities of our vendor partners. These practices often create walls of mistrust between IT and mission areas that result in fragmented efforts and mediocre results. Instead, CIO’s should leverage transparency as the window to develop and nurture trust with stakeholders which in turn will lead to increased buy-in and increased likelihood of success. In the rapidly shifting technology landscape where features, costs and risks are changing almost daily, the more transparency we can provide to our mission partners, the better off we will be at developing meaningful engagement and trust.
Cost savings achieved at large multi-billion dollar commercial businesses by consolidating and centralizing purchases are real. However, expecting that type of economies of scale in government is not realistic. Due to the nature of government budgeting, procurement authorities, and diverse requirements, government entities and vendor counterparts do not enter into vendor exclusive long term relationships that result in favorable deals. Public interest would be better served if there were multiple vendors competing for new requirements under an existing umbrella cloud contract to drive down cost and insert new capabilities. The Navy Commercial Cloud services program is such a vehicle where program offices can get competing offers from commercial Cloud vendors to meet their program needs. In order to fully realize the benefits of cloud adoption across government, public sector CIOs, should share lessons learned about the successes, failures and costs about their Cloud initiatives with their peers. These formal and informal collaboration will result in the creation of networks that transport knowledge and capabilities across organizational boundaries more effectively than any strategy or mandate.
Innovation in the private sector is fueled by easy access to capital, high appetite for growth, high risk tolerance and agile decision. Meanwhile, government leaders have established guard rails to centralize acquisition, provisioning and security that reduce organizational risks but could also suffocate innovation. Instead, CIOs should nurture and incubate public/private cloud ecosystems within their organizations with seed funding, IT security safety net, and lightweight oversight that encourages experimentation to address programmatic needs. When you do that, through collaboration between IT and mission, application deployment velocity can be in weeks as we experienced at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. In order to operationalize these successes, CIOs should actively engage with mission to understand the challenges and opportunities and closely monitor these incubator experimentation. As the maturity of these solutions and platforms increase, CIOs can serve the role as advisor/broker to negotiate enterprise agreements, establish appropriate governance based on organizational risk tolerance and become the change agent for innovation at their organizations.