Cloud Smart: The Mission Is Above the Cloud

Now that government cloud use is established, it's time to really take advantage of it

Mark Forman

When Gartner announced the arrival of the federal cloud “inflection point” almost two years ago, it was a moment worth celebrating.

In 2010, the Cloud First policy was issued. By 2017, federal IT leaders had largely overcome skepticism, caution, and discomfort on cloud matters, and dozens of cloud initiatives ensued. Obstacles fell away, and federal experimentation with cloud computing accelerated.

2019 brought key guidance to accelerate cloud adoption, culminating in the Federal Cloud Smart Strategy. Up to that point, the cloud computing challenge for federal agencies was about the technology. Will it be secure? Will it protect privacy? How do we find the skills needed to move to the cloud? Which applications are “cloud ready?” How do we avoid vendor lock-in of data? Should an agency wait for a cloud solution to get through FedRAMP? Is it worth the risk of losing direct control over equipment, network, applications, and data?

Those were all important questions, clearly, but they begged the big one: What does the cloud mean for our mission?

Now, in 2020, with a set of new policies driving agencies to take advantage of cloud computing, there’s a new inflection point that is on the horizon for some agencies and in the grasp for others. The shift is reflected in rapid growth of cloud services for operations of the business (business process, platform, and applications services), which will account for 75% of cloud services spending, according to Gartner’s forecast. This is where the full potential of the cloud can be realized and an agency’s use of the cloud begins to play a substantial role in fulfilling its mission:

  • Instead of just reducing data storage costs, the agency can put data to valuable use and make it securely accessible to tech-savvy citizens accustomed to the remarkable customer service and responsiveness in the private sector.
  • Instead of having to staff up to procure, deploy, and maintain software and hardware, cloud providers remove the headaches of technology refresh cycles, version updates, security patches, etc., freeing up skilled IT employees for mission-critical tasks and shifting resources from legacy maintenance to modernization initiatives.
  • Instead of long implementation cycles for new technology, agencies can rapidly deploy new capabilities to create a responsive user experience and a modern work environment, improving both citizen and employee satisfaction.


Examples of federal agencies finding mission-enhancing opportunity in their cloud strategies are beginning to proliferate:

  • Only last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its capability to enable “more access to its ever-growing troves of data in the hopes of sparking new economies and a better understanding of our environment.” NOAA continues to leverage the cloud across its enterprise, in both front and back office operations. It was one of the first agencies to move to unified communications using cloud tools. Last year, NOAA conducted a $144 million procurement to accelerate secure migration of data and applications to the cloud.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has moved to the forefront in its commitment and use of IT to improve services for veterans. Amazon Web Services GovCloud (U.S.) connected the VA’s network to the cloud to provide a single place for veterans to discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits they have earned—using any device. The VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals uses GovCloud to streamline the appeals process from more than five years by prioritizing pain points and producing timely appeals decisions. The VA is currently deploying a robust modernization strategy built around cloud services.
  • With Microsoft Azure Government, the Department of Defense is building a cloud environment for the Air Force to support future innovation and leapfrog more traditional cloud migration strategies in furtherance of the Air Force mission “to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

As agencies move forward in this new decade, they should think about what results they seek in cloud migration. Is their mission-critical inflection point at hand? Are their cloud strategies enhancing the mission or just shifting to infrastructure as a service? With the breadth of cloud solutions available to agencies, are they seeking ways that cloud services can improve mission performance, and how can cloud help execute them?

Posted by: Mark Forman

VP, Solutions and Technology

Mark Forman is an accomplished executive with more than 30 years of professional experience, including a presidential appointment as the first U.S. administrator for e-government and information technology--the federal government's first CIO. He is now a VP of solutions and technology, leveraging deep public-sector and emerging technology expertise to provide solutions to government clients and shepherding strategic application of cloud and digital technologies. He has won multiple industry awards and is a respected thought leader on government use of cloud computing and other IT technologies, having given well over 100 talks to industry groups and government officials and written numerous papers and reports.   


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