government cloud

Cloud's new offerings come with the same old obstacles

While much of government's cloud migration efforts remain focused on basic storage and infrastructure services, some agencies are looking to leverage the new technologies that cloud can now deliver.  At a Dec. 12 event hosted by FCW, Department of Health and Human Services Deputy CTO Ed Simcox said that cloud's scalability and processing power is critical for the data-intensive research HHS agencies are doing.  The National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Project, for example, will be “one of the largest, if not the largest, dataset of any type,” he said, adding that it is “not something that NIH is going to be able to do in their own data centers for very long.”

Simcox also stressed cloud's potential to power better telehealth programs as well as internet of things devices such as “smart slippers” with sensors and gait monitors to anticipate and prevent falls among elderly.  That same combination of connected devices, cloud-based data and predictive analytics can be used to monitor military personnel and first responders, he added.

Capt. Craig H. Hodge, the deputy CTO at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said his agency is looking to leverage the predictive and behavioral analytics that cloud-based services can offer.

"The behavorial analytics are what are exciting to me," Hodge said, "because we behave predictably."  And when behavior "goes outside those patterns," he said, ICE or other agencies could flag the anomaly and explore whether it's a cause for concern.

Both officials, however, said such efforts face the same obstacles that can complicate more-mundane cloud initiatives.  One key challenge? Fixing acquisition, according to Simcox. “Help us figure out better ways to acquire,” he said, calling on industry for assistance. “The way that feds are acquiring a lot of these technologies is not the right way. We’re trying to acquire these technologies and these services like we do a server or a hard drive or a software license. That doesn't work.”

Hodge, meanwhile, pointed to the difficulties in establishing good governance models for cloud -- especially when certain programs or components in an agency have already begun contracting for cloud services. "Everyone out there knows about the cloud, but they really don't know about the cloud," he said. "So we have to educate them."

And Andras Szakal, IBM's CTO for the U.S. federal market, agreed there was catching up to do, policy-wise. “The policies of the past need to change in order for us to move to the future," he said, pointing to security controls as another important example.  "The [Authority to Operate] process is bottlenecked right now,” he said.  

The Trump administration has acknowledged several policy bottlenecks as well.  The Report to the President on Federal IT modernization, released Dec. 13 by the White House's American Technology Council, includes a number of ideas, strategies and pilot programs focused on accelerating cloud adoption.

Szakal, however, also said that a lack of expertise is hurting missions. “That is a constant and continuous struggle for all of us. That means growing our skills and growing our teams and pulling new people in,” he suggested. “Without the new skills, understanding what it means to go to the cloud, we will never be able to get there.”

About the Author

Ben Berliner is an editorial fellow at FCW. He is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, and has interned at the Center for Responsive Politics and at Sunlight Foundation.

He can be contacted at

Click here for previous articles by Berliner.


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