The adoption of cloud technology in federal agencies is a slow-moving and daunting task for both leadership and employees.
At the Amazon Web Services Public Sector Summit — held June 11-12 in Washington, D.C. — government officials and the AWS CEO discussed the following ways for other public sector organizations to reduce some of the hardship:
Don’t forget the human
Major Gen. John Ferrari, director of the Army’s Program Analysis and Evaluation office, said that the most important aspect of cloud integration is the people.
The problem with legacy systems is that “people build organizations around them, they build processes around them, and then when they try go to a new system that has different and better capabilities, what you hear is, ‘Yeah, but I want to do it this way because that’s the way we do it,’” Ferrari said.
The key to solving this problem, Ferrari said, is to invest in technical training for employees. Ferrari’s team didn’t have the expertise on cloud systems, so Army PA&E decided to train them.
“You can scare off your own workforce if you’re not careful,” Ferrari said. “What we told our workforce was, ‘We’re going in this direction and we’re going to train you to come and work in this environment.’”
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, reiterated Ferrari’s stance. Jassy said that organizations need to avoid building a cloud that no employees know how to use.
“You really got to make sure that you train people so that they’re familiar and comfortable. It’s not that hard as long as you learn the concepts,” Jassy said.
Army PA&E’s migration to the cloud forced Ferrari’s team and contractors to evolve their core skill sets.
“People are the centerpiece of this entire migration,” Ferrari said. “And if you go into your organization to do a migration … and you’re not taking the human into account, I don’t know how you will succeed.”
Backing from senior leadership
Cloud migration is a big technological leap for large organizations, which tend to adopt new technology slowly. An essential part of agency migration to the cloud is a senior leadership team that is “convicted.”
“It is so easy for people in the middle and people all over the organization to block,” Jassy said. “Inertia is a very powerful thing. And if you don’t have a senior leadership team that is all on the same page and convicted that they want to move to the cloud, you will find that there’s a lot of things that get blocked along the way.”
Jassy also said senior leadership needs to ask for constant updates so it knows that progress is being made, instead of assuming that it’s being made and discovering later that it isn’t.
Within the Intelligence Community, commitment from leadership to cloud drove the community to a system that now allows them to operate significantly faster and ask more complex questions.
“Without the organizational commitment, we wouldn’t put pressure on it,” said Susan Gordon, principal deputy director of national intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “Because, see, that’s what organizational commitment does to things: It makes you have to achieve.”
At the Department of Defense, the backing of senior leadership enabled the Army to complete its migration to the cloud. Ferrari said all business changes within an organization during a move are “underpinned” by support from the senior leadership.
“We had that leadership backing to overcome a lot of that organizational resistance,” Ferrari said.
Reward early adopters
To make people happy during disruptive technological change, rewarding “good behavior” is another important component, said Kenny Bowen, chief information officer at the Department of Defense’s Special Access Programs.
“If there’s only one thing, just one thing I want you to take away … it’s that figuring out how to secure centralized funding for those early adopters is the most powerful thing,” Bowen said.
He said that he finds early adopters more money to work with, even if they didn’t ask for it. He gives them a fast pass through lines he controls and ensures that his department lends early adopters the best engineers.
In the end, “supporting early adopters has been far more successful than anything else,” he said.
Learn how cloud works for you, don’t do cloud to do cloud
At ODNI, part of organizational commitment was getting executives to understand how the organization would benefit from the technology, instead of what the technology did.
“I happen to care less about the technology; I care about the technology use,” Gordon said.
For the Army, Ferrari said cloud computing fit the Army’s structure because of the amount of data it consumes. To start a cloud migration, the organizational needs first need to be understood.
“That is the business part of the business transformation. It’s understanding really what that core function is you’re doing, understanding your organizational structure and processes, and understanding how you’re going to integrate vertically and horizontally,” Ferrari said.
Set aggressive, top down goals and start with the small
Ambitious goal setting in cloud migration can also drive an organization to adopt the new technology quicker, Jassy said.
“Our most successful organizations moving to the cloud set an aggressive, top-down goal that force the organization to move faster than it organically otherwise would,” Jassy said.
Jassy said that he’s found organizations gain momentum if they set aggressive targets for migrating data. But one area organizations get stuck on, he said, is how to move their workloads.
“The reality is that there are so many workloads that you can easily move before you have to move the hardest ones that have the most dependency and the most legacy,” Jassy said.
Jassy added that moving the smaller workloads over to the cloud first helps inform organizations on how to migrate the legacy systems.
“They have a better way to do it once they got some experience,” Jassy said.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.