Cloud Exchange: GSA sees pandemic accelerate pace, demand for cloud

The General Services Administration is leveraging everything the cloud has to offer in its “second wave” of digital transformation

GSA, while equipped with modern infrastructure to carry out its acquisition, real estate and technology services missions for the rest of the federal government, is following a continuous improvement approach to IT modernization.

GSA Chief Information Officer David Shive said the agency’s IT shop, as part of this latest wave of IT modernization, is focused on new ways to increase efficiency and lower costs to support the business mission of the agency, while also serving as an innovation leader for the rest of the federal government.

“We’re doing our second wave of digital transformation, that looks at not only are we dealing with digital assets in the ecosystem, in the businesses of GSA … but are we doing it as a digital thing through the entire ecosystem, the entire lifecycle of whatever thing we’re doing — whether it’s a transaction or workflow, or something like that — and that takes a refactoring of the entire way we do our business,” Shive said on Federal News Network’s Cloud Exchange.

GSA, already an agency leader in cloud migration, continues to finds ways to maximize the benefits of moving to the cloud. The cloud supports more than half of GSA’s workloads, while more than 20% of its workloads are managed through off-premises managed services.

Shive said GSA’s infrastructure allows the agency to scale up and build a baseline level operating posture, rather than build to meet its peak utilization needs.

“The cloud allows us to elegantly peak at times, and we only pay for those peak periods. We’re architecting for standard operating posture, rather than peak posture. That’s a money-saver. That’s an efficiency-builder as well,” Shive said.

Unlike its cloud infrastructure from a few years ago, GSA is able to build workloads that are highly portable and can move from cloud to cloud, or from the cloud back to on-prem infrastructure. Shive said that improves GSA’s flexibility and allows the agency to become more cloud and technology agnostic, as well as pursue the best price and usability.

“What this does is it allows our businesses to focus all of their time and attention on making their business the best possible thing it can be. It’s removing the limits that technology provides on iterating and changing the business. It’s made the agency overall be much more agile and flexible than it typically could be. The notion that the government is this large, slow behemoth, moving at a glacial pace, and far behind the commercial world in agility and business is a misnomer. It’s no longer a reality. GSA is able to operate at the speed of 21st-century business, and cloud is one of the key enablers for making that happen,” Shive said.

GSA’s cloud infrastructure also allows the agency’s headquarters to coordinate more effectively with field offices and ensure their needs are met.

“I often say the sun never sets on the GSA enterprise. I have IT people in Europe, and I have IT people in South Asia. The business mission of the federal government is not just limited to the United States, it’s worldwide. And so if ever there was a need to make sure that we could do the work of GSA from any place at any time, on any device, that time, presented itself five or six years ago and remains now,” Shive said. “One of the things that we found when we created mobile-enabled capability for the agency is that it drew field offices that oftentimes felt pretty remote into the center of the agency. We used to have to fly out to a field office in California or Washington State, or Montana or places like that, to have meaningful interactions with people. Starting four or five years ago, and carrying forward to now, you can have somebody in one of those field offices online and talk to them in a moment. That transforms an organization, allows us to collaborate in ways that were never possible before.”

GSA’s cloud infrastructure enables the agency to make more efficient use of its data, but balancing the security of data and meeting a growing public demand for data remains a tricky balance for all agencies to manage.

“At this particular point in time, I spend most of my time, and my executive team spends their time, understanding what data we have, and understanding the access and how access needs to change and morph over time. We’re looking at democratizing and no longer confining data that shouldn’t be. If the end result of the data is open data that’s pushed out to the citizen … why would we close that off? Because citizens, when they dig into data, they find some really interesting things that they can help us with,” Shive said. “We’re finding that things like zero trust architectures are going to be really helpful to this, because that allows us to open and close the gates on data, based not only on the value and risk associated with that data, but the changing personas of people, which literally change in real-time based on where they are, what they’re doing, what they’re asking for, things like that. And we’re finding elegant ways to match up those personas of people.”

At the heart of all aspects of GSA’s IT modernization, Shive said change management is necessary to help the agency’s workforce understand how new tools can help them meet their mission.

“I can draw a straight line back to any of the successes that GSA IT has … to the fact that we pour an inordinate amount of time into organizational change management. But it doesn’t just start there. It starts with design thinking at the very beginning, which includes inviting and introducing your business partners into the very beginning of anything you try to do,” Shive said.

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