Over the past two decades, cloud computing has exploded in popularity among businesses, organizations, agencies, and individuals. Today, the cloud is widely used across organizations and enterprises to make their IT architectures more scalable, and enable their organizations to provision network resources much more quickly than they could with traditional data centers.
But cloud adoption was more of a marathon than a sprint in the federal government – where concerns about security and a lack of cloud training and knowledge made agencies reticent to jump immediately into the cloud. However, following federal “Cloud First” and “Cloud Smart” initiatives, agencies have turned the corner on the cloud.
Regardless of whether they’re aware of it or not, the average agency now leverages not one, but multiple cloud solutions and services as part of its day-to-day operations. And many of them are realizing huge benefits of moving their workloads, data, and applications into the cloud.
Late last year, the Federal Executive Forum hosted a live panel featuring some of the leading cloud experts from the federal government, military, and private enterprise.
The panelists included:
- Paul Pucket, Director of the Enterprise Cloud Management Agency at the U.S. Army
- Shane Barney, Chief Information Security Officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Dr. Mark Lucus, Cloud Computing Operations at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Louis Koplin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, DON CIO, at the U.S. Navy
- Jonathon Alboum, Federal Chief Technology Officer at ServiceNow
- David Kelly, Technology Fellow at Deloitte Consulting
- Evong Chung, Senior Director, Solutions Architecture at Red Hat
During this cloud-focused panel, the participants took an in-depth look at their agency’s cloud journey, explained how it was a proactive move that has opened up doors for faster workflow and communication, and shared how it has delivered more capability to their organizations and personnel.
Automating processes and improving service delivery
An overarching theme shared by many of the panelists included the cloud’s ability to improve processes, streamline workflows, and improve the speed and efficiency in which government agencies and organizations deliver services to constituents and stakeholders.
An incredible example of this was shared by ServiceNow’s Jonathon Alboum, who described an exciting and important new system that his company helped to launch for the United States Army. The concept for this system was rooted in how difficult and tedious it historically was for warfighters and their families to get maintenance and repairs made on their homes.
“Soldiers and their families were having challenges with Army-managed housing. There could be maintenance issues [or] other challenges in maintaining that home,” Alboum explained. “[Getting issues corrected]…was a very complicated, paper-based process.”
The solution was a ServiceNow-powered system designed to help improve the quality of life for America’s warfighters, by streamlining and modernizing this antiquated system.
“We worked with the army to deploy a workflow on ServiceNow…[that would] make it very simple for soldiers and their families to support maintenance issues with their homes,” Alboum said. “Using a phone, they could just simply take a picture of something that was wrong, send it to a central office that could dispatch a person to repair that problem, and get that home back in shape very quickly.”
The system has been so well received by the Army, warfighters, and their family, that its scope has been expanded. Today, that program is referred to as “fence to fence,” and can be used to report problems with practically anything on the base – from homes to buildings to roads. But it was far from the only exciting example of how cloud company is being used to make the government more efficient and effective.
According to DHS, “approximately 116,000 noncitizens entered the United States as new arrivals.” Each of those 116,000 individuals would have had to apply to enter the country legally. And that application process would traditionally have been a very paper-heavy process.
“Immigration is a complex, data-heavy, paper-intensive process” explained Shane Barney of USCIS. “We recognize there’s always going to be some element of paper, but at the same time, we want to have the in-house capabilities digitized to make that accessible to our officers who are doing the adjudications in the field or around the world.”
USCIS was an early adopter of the cloud. According to Barney, the agency, “…jumped into the cloud feet first – hardly even looking at what we were doing – over 10 years ago…” Today, Barney predicts that the agency is, “probably 95 percent cloud-based,” and it’s looking to leverage the cloud to make the application process for legal immigration easier and more streamlined.
“…we’re looking to…make it possible to submit and apply for any immigration benefit via the internet,” Barney claimed. “We want to make that accessible and make sure that the people that we serve throughout the world have that capability.”
But it’s not just about empowering immigrants looking to enter the country. It’s also about servicing personnel in the field, and giving them the tools they need to better and more effectively accomplish their mission.
“We want to put the technology in the hands of refugee officers and asylum officers who are working…on the ground, sometimes in some really terrible locations,” said Barney. “[We want] to be able to not only give them the ability to capture the information that we need, but also to be able to make decisions when they’re there.”
These two use cases illustrate the benefits of the cloud. But does the government have the people and the resources it needs to continue on its cloud journey? And how do recent trends in the broader IT industry impact government agencies?
A look to the future of the federal cloud workforce
When thinking about today’s tech industry, the recession is usually top of mind. There have been a number of high-profile mass layoffs and hiring freezes that have been happening for the past year. Last year alone, the tech industry laid off 160,000 workers, and 110,723 so far in 2023 according to layoffs.fyi.
What is the impact of an environment like this on government IT initiatives and federal agency cloud programs and projects?
According to Evong Chung, these trends could impact the private sector’s ability to partner with government to move these initiatives forward. “… Will this slow innovation? Will we see a brain drain in tech that makes us fall behind the technological capabilities of our foes?” Chung asked. “That’s going to be really tough for these next few years in terms of the recession.”
Though this is a concern in the tech industry and could result in technological capabilities falling behind for our government, Chung still sees a silver lining. The workforce that is leaving the private sector could, in fact, be leveraged to move cloud initiatives forward in the public sector.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to drive cloud adoption, because it’s imperative for government to have a cloud-enabled workforce. [However], It’s been really difficult to do [this], because of the fluidity and inflation in the tech job market over these past few years,” said Chung. “If we’re deliberate about recruiting from some of these folks that are unfortunately affected, folks could have an opportunity to serve their country and bring some of that innovation to the government. [This] may be a place where we could be deliberate about doing cross-pollination between industry and government.”
To learn more about how the Cloud is modernizing government IT to enhance the government mission, click HERE.