The growing awareness among government CIOs and IT managers about the agility and potential productivity gains the cloud can offer has made product suites like those Google and Microsoft offer an easier sell to public-sector agencies. At the federal level, the cloud has won the endorsement of the White House, which has been directing agencies to consider cloud computing solutions first as they embark on new IT deployments.
Important Factors Government Must Weigh When Moving to the Cloud
But even if cloud computing has graduated from its buzzword phase and is now better understood among government decision makers, there remain many important factors to weigh when considering a move to the cloud.
That starts with a sober assessment of the objectives the agency is trying to achieve, according to Mark Herman, an executive vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in the firm's Strategic Innovation Initiative.
"I think you have to have an outcome-based strategy. You have to say, 'What are you trying to do?'" Herman says.
In some cases, a comparison between legacy applications and their counterparts in the cloud presents the opportunity for substantial cost savings, an especially appealing outcome at a time when agencies are dealing with contracting budgets and increasing demand for citizen services.
"The No. 1 reason why government entities are moving is cost. Cost, cost, cost," says Gartner's Austin. "Some of the cost issues are less than obvious."
For instance, it's not uncommon to hear about a department or large agency in the federal government that has multiple — in some cases a dozen or more — internal email systems, each with its own management requirements and often maintained by sub-agencies or bureaus that are reluctant to cede control of their operations to the IT shop headed by the agency CIO. (Small wonder, then, that U.S. CIO Steve VanRoekel and other government IT leaders have been asking Congress for legislation that would give department and a gency CIOs new authorities to oversee IT operations and make purchasing decisions.)
Overcoming the internal politics and turf wars and consolidating into a single email system can often yield significant savings on the maintenance and management side, while allowing IT staffers to refocus on more forward-looking projects that advance the mission of the agency.
Given the unique pressures government CIOs face, some public-sector organizations, particularly at the state and local level, have been moving to the cloud more aggressively than many segments of the business community.
"I think cost is a principal driving factor for our customers," says Microsoft's Kolcun. "I do believe that based on the budgetary constraints across all aspects of the public sector that they've been actually leading to the cloud."
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