Interagency group soliciting feedback on new cloud buying guides

Government champions of cloud computing believe the momentum has finally started to pick up and shift in their favor within the past year.

More agency IT leaders are joining the Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE), a grassroots community of government cloud practitioners, and the organization is now soliciting federal and industry feedback on a series of four working documents intended to help agencies tackle funding challenges, acquire cloud solutions more quickly and secure them with more confidence.

It couldn’t come at a better time, as agencies are one step closer toward gaining access to much-needed IT modernization money. The Senate included the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act in the Defense Authorization bill last week, which senators overwhelming passed with a 89-8 vote.

Passage of the MGT Act would create a working capital fund in each agency based on savings from consolidating data centers and moving to the cloud.

“If you’re thinking about modernizing and you’re not thinking about using cloud to achieve the capabilities that you want, then you’re really missing a lot,” David Bray, outgoing chief information officer of the Federal Communications Commission, said at a joint conversation between the CCoE and the Cloud Computing Acquisition Forum in Washington on Tuesday. “What I would love to do is actually drop the ‘IT’ from ‘IT modernization’ and just talk about modernization as a whole. … Why does any of this stuff matter? It’s because we have a lot of legacy processes and practices back when communication was harder to do [and] coordination was harder to do, that we really need to actually remove ourselves from.”

“We owe the public a rethink of how we deliver public services better, more effectively,” he added. “There are no IT projects anymore. There are mission and businesses processes and projects that have IT baked into them.”

Few CIOs had been comfortable with Bray’s vision for government and the cloud — even six years after the Office of Management and Budget issued its cloud-first policy.

But Bray and members of the CCoE believe the momentum has been — and will continue — to shift.

“Believe it or not, government could get together in a non-competitive, open [and] collaborative environment,” said Richard Blake, deputy assistant commissioner for the Common Acquisition Platform at the General Services Administration. “We could communicate, cooperate and collaborate. We could produce documents very rapidly. We could produce guidance very rapidly. We could help our peers, and we have. … We have actually helped some agencies get to the cloud who weren’t getting to the cloud a year ago when this whole thing started.”

Blake helped found the CCoE about a year ago. Since then, the organization has been growing in size. It now has 140-to-150 participants from 40-to-50 agencies, who offered stories of their mistakes, successes and questions around the cloud, Blake said.

Those stories informed the CCoE’s four working documents, which the organization’s members are actively publicizing for feedback. They include:

A cloud dictionary, which includes a set of terms from FedRAMP and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“We just need to have a common vocabulary, because I think for a lot of times we’ve been talking past each other for the last two to three years on what cloud was,” Bray said.

Contract language considerations for both civilian agencies and the Defense Department are designed to help lawyers, acquisition officers and contracting officers put the proper wording into their cloud contracts.

Finally, a Cloud Adoption Survival, Tips, Lessons Learned and Experiences (CASTLE) guide is intended to help acquisition professionals better understand what cloud solutions they’re buying.

“The CASTLE guide is meant to be … a starting place,” Blake said. “If you were planning your trip and you were trying to map it all out, you would figure out where you are and where you’re going. That’s what the CASTLE guide is meant to do.”

With more industry and agency feedback, CCoE expects the momentum behind cloud will accelerate even more.

“We’ve done more on cloud in the last year or so, or the last two years, than we have in the last 10,” Blake said. “That cadence and that velocity will pick up, and I hope that the CCOE contributes to that.”

À la carte

The CCOE will next release a new document detailing the concept of an “à la carte marketplace.”

The marketplace is designed to address some of the challenges agencies have in quickly purchasing commodity cloud services, such as email, storage and case management systems.

The goal is for agencies to pick and choose from a variety of pre-negotiated and pre-approved cloud computing solutions for services, which multiple agencies need and aren’t unique to one specific mission.

“That’s where the ‘à la carte’ gets its name,” said Rob Wuhrman, enterprise solutions architect for Unified Shared Services Management at GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy. “[It’s] the ability to go to a marketplace and explore and to discover what’s there and what’s available on an inter-agency basis, contracts that have been set up to be available on a multi-agency basis.”

CCOE will solicit industry feedback on the “à la carte marketplace” document and plans to incorporate it into the final version. The organization wants to present the concept to agency leaders, industry and the Trump administration.

“We see this as an opportunity to put forward a way that this can work more easily and reduce the time to get to cloud from months to a year or more with large-scale acquisitions or purchase cards that don’t scale, down to days and weeks,” Wuhrman said. “[That enables] the smaller agencies … to be able to much more easily — because they’re not as well-resourced when it comes to their ability to acquire and implement — to get the advantages of the cloud.”

Next steps

Blake said he hopes the CCOE can one day deploy and embed consultative teams to specific agencies to guide them through key conversations and help them with their cloud journeys.

That element has been missing as agencies slowly embrace cloud, Bray said. And both GSA and the Office of Management and Budget have enabled departments to not adopt cloud solutions, he added.

“While FedRAMP has had some challenges, the last 12 months it’s definitely improved,” Bray said. “I would say FedRAMP has helped us a whole lot more than another part of GSA, 18F. The question is how can we use 18F and [the U.S. Digital Service] to actually help us more? We currently have a technical debt in a lot of departments and agencies on the government side to actually help oversee these contracts with the private sector. If 18F and USDS really did want to show value, they could rotate in and out of departments and agencies and help them figure out how … you move to software-as-a-service?”

Bray, who’s leaving the FCC later this week up to head up the People-Centered Internet Coalition, will step down as the CCOE’s government co-chair. Chad Sheridan, CIO of the Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency, will take Bray’s place.

“If we continue going on and drive after bold missions, we cannot do this alone,” Sheridan said. “[For] everybody who’s accomplished anything in government or in industry, this belief that this lone wolf is going to get it all done, has to be dispelled.”

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