Federal CIO Tony Scott might have set the tone for the day when he said the essence of cloud is speed. Cost savings are great, and agility is cool, but speed is what will make the biggest difference, he said.

If you didn’t catch Tony there, you can still see him here. But he was only the table setter. Here are six more critical takeaways from Washington’s biggest cloud event of the year:

1. Moving Faster
Start small, but don’t delay, said Chad Sheridan, Chief Information Officer, Risk Management Agency, Department of Agriculture. Agencies need to give cloud a try, some way, somehow.

“You have to just jump in,” Sheridan said. “Don’t be afraid to try something.”

Doug VanDyke, General Manager, Public Sector, Amazon Web Services, marveled at how the conversation about cloud has evolved over the past four years.

Back then, VanDyke said, “The question was ‘how do I get to the cloud? It’s too risky.’ And what I’ve seen [since] is that conversation has changed to ‘It’s too risky for me to stay on site. How do I get into the cloud?’”

Tom Sasala, Chief Technology Officer, Army Information Technology Agency, leveraged commercial consultants to ease his agency’s cloud migration. But don’t expect an easy ride, he warned.

“Start small, and expect hiccups,” he said.

2. Prepare to Work
Moving to the cloud requires more effort than you think.

“This whole migration to the cloud, it is a trust equation,” said Stan Tyliszczak, vice president, technology integration and chief engineer, General Dynamics Information Technology. “But it’s a trust equation with much more complexity than swiping a credit card so I can provision a service, get some storage, and I’m off and running.”

3. Get Beyond the Savings
Cloud is about more than saving money.

“When we’re talking about return on investment, especially qualitative, don’t forget about things like customer satisfaction and citizen engagement,” said Dan Katz, technical director, Public Sector, Acquia. “How much more time can really skilled, valuable employees spend developing solutions for the mission instead of trying to patch servers? These are things that are harder to quantify, but if you talk to any vendor, they’ll tell you that those are the stories they hear from their successful customers – that they can devote their resources to focusing on their mission.”

Is cloud really better than the data centers we have today? asked one skeptical fed.

“The typewriter was great. I remember it,” said Stacy Cleveland, vice president, Global Practices, U.S. Public Sector, Enterprise Services, Hewlett-Packard. But “you kind of cap your benefits if you don’t actually step out there and go into a new world.”

Greg Godbout, Chief Technology Officer, Environmental Protection Agency, echoed Scott’s keynote with a comment that applies equally to the power of word processors over typewriters and the power of cloud over home-grown data centers.

“To me the key metric is speed, or essentially deployment,” he said. “Deployment of new things…but if everything is siloed, it’s never going to happen.”

4. Focus on Core Competencies
Is the mission of your agency about owning data centers, or analyzing data? That’s the central question for most agencies looking at the cloud equation: What are your agencies’ critical core competencies?

For the International Trade Commission (ITC), shedding a data center means the time and effort to keep the center up and running can be redirected to better supporting the mission, said Kirit Amin, Chief Information Officer at ITC.

“Government is not in the business of providing power and running air conditioners,” he said. In the same way, it doesn’t need to be in the business of storage. It’s the data, not the center, that’s important. “Data centers are an expensive way to go.”

Specialists can do that work better, argued Joe Paiva, Chief Information Officer, International Trade Administration.

“No Federal agency will ever run a data center as well as Amazon or Google, or run a network as well as AT&T or Verizon,” Paiva said. “They will never develop software as well as Salesforce, Oracle, or Microsoft. So don’t do it. Just say no.”

5. Yes, FedRAMP Is Mandatory
When is FedRAMP-compliance required? That question was put to Matt Goodrich, Director, FedRAMP Program Management Office, who was adamant in his response.

“The administration has already said it’s not aspirational,” Goodrich said. “That it’s mandatory. So I think that’s pretty clear. … It’s what agencies have said that they need, and the administration said, ‘Yes, this is mandatory, and if this is what everyone needs, you should be doing it.’”

Goodrich was responding to confusion at the Federal agency level over FedRAMP and a growing concern that agencies can somehow get around FedRAMP compliance. Adding to the confusion: a General Services Administration (GSA) policy, voiced by Goodrich and others, that says FedRAMP compliance is only required to operate – and not to bid or win a contract. That’s left some FedRAMP-compliant vendors to wonder whether they gained the advantage they sought when they invested in FedRAMP in the first place.

Goodrich also acknowledged the FedRAMP compliance is “a beast,” but that it’s necessarily rigorous because the FedRAMP PMO must ensure cloud services and solutions are secure.

“We get a lot of criticism for the fact that the documentation is hard,” Goodrich said. “I will not negate that fact. It is true, but in order to build that trust and be able to outsource that trust framework and have your data be in another person’s environment, you really have to understand what a cloud provider is doing. And there is no other way to trust that than to fully have everything documented.”

6. Let’s Share
You don’t have to invent everything yourself. Progressive agencies should find ways to share and reuse the work of others.

“Why can’t we share what we do across the Federal government?” said Agriculture CIO Sheridan. “It’s maddening that we all have data intake systems, or form management systems, or work flow management systems. It seems like we continue to build the same stuff over and over again. … We’re not in competition.”

The International Trade Association is looking at sharing its development work, Paiva said.

“The intent right now is that we’re going to take every app we develop on the Salesforce platform and put it in the app exchange for every other Federal agency, or private citizens, to download for free,” he said. “I think we want to go down that same path with Azure, with Amazon, and with every other vendor we can who has a platform, because there is no reason to recreate these things.”

Godbout said not re-inventing everything is something that cuts across government and even individual offices. It’s a new way to think.

“I love the idea of sharing across the Federal government,” he said. But don’t stop there. “Across the hallway would be good, too.”

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MeriTalk Staff