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How cloud vendors can win over skeptical federal buyers

Kenneth Corbin | July 15, 2014
The U.S. federal government has been making a lot of noise about moving its IT operations to the cloud. At the ground level, though, significant concerns around security and portability remain obstacles for would-be cloud service providers.

Cloud companies looking to do business with the federal government can help their cause if they address a punch list of concerns that weigh on the minds of many agency CIOs and executives, senior government leaders say.

Certainly, there are some challenges with government contracting that are beyond the capability of outside vendors to address, such as a daunting procurement process and a culture that at times can be stubborn in its resistance to change.

On a number of other fronts, would-be government cloud suppliers can offer assurances in their pitch that might give federal buyers more confidence in making the jump to the cloud.

Barry West, CIO of the Pension Guaranty Benefits Corporation, sees two principal obstacles that cloud vendors routinely encounter: Security and privacy issues and data location. "The business units and the [inspector general] are still having some uncertainty about having data located somewhere else where they can't go and look at it."

On the security front, vendors can work toward certifications. As that process becomes standardized, wearing the badge of approval from the government's Joint Authorization Board figures to carry more weight among skeptical agency leaders. Then, too, one of the most heavily classified operations in the federal government the CIA is undertaking a major transition to Amazon's cloud.

Transparency, Data Portability Concerns Limit Government Cloud Adoption
The reluctance of many agency leaders to permit their systems to migrate away from a proprietary data center and into the hands of a private cloud vendor springs in part from concerns about transparency and data portability. The data portability issue is sometimes boiled down to vendor lock-in the fear that, once the data and applications move to a service provider, that's where they'll stay.

Vendors can speak to those concerns in the procurement process by adding to contracts a "transition-out plan" that the government must approve, says Jim Porter, acting branch director of enforcement and removal operations at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

"I've seen some bad habits creep in where people really can slow-roll a transition," Porter adds.

On the positive side of the ledger, West cites cost savings and trust in an established vendor as leading factors tilting federal decision makers toward the cloud.

At ICE, when officials were looking to set up an electronic health record system, they weighed their options of going with a traditional application housed in an owned and operated data center, or the cloud. When they found that the cloud solution was roughly four times cheaper than the alternative, the decision was all but made, Porter says.

"We put the cost out in front of the CFO. It's pretty much a no-brainer decision," Porter says.

 

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