Cloud changing agency IT workforce needs

Departments require technology employees to be more technical as they buy services from cloud computing providers. Program and project managers also are in high...

The government’s move to cloud computing will increase the size and change the skills of its workforce.

Agencies that already have dipped their toes — or in some cases their entire body — into the cloud are finding their employees need not just the typical project and program management skills, but a different kind of technical knowledge. And many of these employees will need to be hired as agencies traded skills-hired IT workers for vendors over the last decade.

Mark Day, the chief technology officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the agency is a prime example. HUD actually went too far in decreasing the skills of its workforce when it outsourced its network operations in the 2000s under its HUD HITS contract under a managed service deal, he said.

HUD is getting ready to recompete the HITS contract and cloud services are a likely option.

“We are discovering that while we can take a lot less technical skills, we don’t need as many people in each of those areas, having nobody in those areas has proven not to be a fiscally-wise decision,” Day said Thursday at the AFFIRM-GITEC mobility and cloud computing conference in Washington. “The other thing that we are discovering is the cloud provider does less of that for you than the managed-service provider so you actually need more technical skills than I do as a managed-service provider operation. They give you a box and their infrastructure-as-a-service, if your system doesn’t integrate with something else, they’re going, ‘the box runs.'”

Day said agencies need to think about what the cloud provider brings to the table and what types of skills agencies now need.

“Cloud actually takes us back a little bit in terms of the number of skills we actually have to have in-house,” he said.

These technical skills are on top of the existing shortfall of employees trained in program and project management.

Day said employees need to know how cloud computing works, how systems in the cloud run and how other systems that aren’t in the cloud integrate with those that are.

Day and others on the panel said cloud computing takes away the need to update software or hardware, or worry about storage, but it opens up another level of complexity that agencies need to be prepared for.

The Veterans Affairs Department is moving more toward a customer service model as a way to deal with the complexities of cloud.

Jeff Shyshka, VA’s deputy assistant secretary for IT operations, said the agency actually hired more people as it’s moved its data centers to the cloud.

“We divided into service lines which are the higher grades, the 13s-14s-15s that are my really technical people that design, engineer and do those kinds of things for each of my regions,” Shyshka said. “That is just being implemented now and put together. They were distributed across all these different medical centers and offices in the past.”

At the medical facilities, Shyshka said he wants lower level, GS-7-9, employees who have different skills.

“They are the kind of people that understand the applications and can go to the hospital director or associate director’s desk and explain how this spreadsheet now works,” he said.

Shyshka said this approach also gives the lower grade workers a career track to move into those more technical areas, where they don’t have to necessary go into management to advance.

HHS is doing something similar as well. The agency is looking at its business units and setting up program management offices to support each of them.

John Teeter, HHS’s acting chief information officer, said they will have three large domains each with a PMO: health and human services, scientific area and administrative area.

“We will have a lead for the PMO. We’ll have architects that understand technology, data management and business process improvement in each one of those areas,” he said. “We’ll have IT capital planning folks that have expertise in evaluating IT investments for their value and their return on investment. And we’ll have a security person in there too.”

While these program management offices will review all technology projects, Teeter said he expects cloud computing to play a big role in how HHS transforms its network and application infrastructures.

The PMOs also must have the wherewithal to evaluate technical proposals, which may or may not include cloud, and to ensure integration between cloud and non-cloud systems happens smoothly.

Having adequate workforce skills isn’t the only challenge agencies are facing in moving to the cloud.

Several panelists said agencies need to understand which applications are ready for the cloud and which are not.

HUD’s Day said as the agency recompetes its network contract, it is running a systematic assessment of every system the agency owns to decide what can move to the cloud without any extra customization.

“How do we deal with the fact we have systems which span multiple platforms?” Day said. “Some of those platforms are readily adaptable to the cloud and some of those platforms are 20 years old, Cobol 84 from a particular vendor that doesn’t move to the cloud easily, and yet that system will be there for 20 years. How do we build this hybrid environment?”

NOAA has been using cloud services for many years. Joe Klimavicz, NOAA’s CIO, said one area agencies need to think up front about before entering into a contract with a cloud provider is an exit strategy.

He said the agency has been using software-as-a-service for some time and had to switch vendors at times. If NOAA didn’t plan during the acquisition strategy for how to move from one vendor to another, it would’ve been in trouble.

NOAA recently moved to Google apps and developed an exit strategy in the contract.

“It’s our data, and we can take it back. How are they going to help us go to another solution down the road if we want to do that?” Klimavicz said. “You need to work that upfront. There are a lot of points that are somewhat difficult and you need to work those upfront because it doesn’t get easier later on. If you aren’t getting the service that you expect or the costs are going up much faster than you can support or you find a better alternative because it’s hard to predict what technology is going to look like 3 or 5 years down the road.”

(Copyright 2011 by Federal News Radio. All Rights Reserved.)

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