With Cloud Computing, Feds Should Swing for the Fences

05/22/2015 04:19 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

Bryce Harper is hitting the cover off the ball for the Washington Nationals. He's already hit more home runs this season than all of last season. For Harper, the sky's the limit because he finally has reached his potential. But a few blocks away from Nationals Park, Federal IT managers aren't quite in the swing of things.

The Congressional Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group's new report on the state of cloud computing in the Federal government, "Don't Be a Box Hugger," sees both balls and strikes in Federal efforts to adopt cloud computing.

Cloud represents "a tremendous opportunity to dramatically transform how the Federal government manages, processes, and shares information," writes U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in his foreword of the report, available here.

Cloud promises financial savings, faster development, perpetual modernization, and more, by getting the government out of the risky business of buying computer technology. Instead, cloud allows it to lease both software and hardware, ensuring perpetual access to the latest program and hardware updates. Cloud allows agencies to tap into the unparalleled scale of huge commercial vendors, like Amazon and Microsoft, firms whose data storage capacity dwarfs that of even Uncle Sam, the world's biggest IT consumer.

The Feds aren't all alone in stepping to the plate on cloud transformation. Cloud represents the fastest-growing segment within the $4 trillion global IT market. Gartner predicts organizations will spend 4 percent of IT budgets on cloud computing, or $176 billion this year. But by 2017, that figure will soar to $240 billion, Gartner predicts.

Within the Federal government, cloud computing is advancing, but it's more of curve ball than a fast ball today. The President's budget request for Fiscal 2016 calls for an IT spending of $86.4 billion, of which an estimated $2.1 billion would pay for cloud computing solutions. That's a little more than 2 percent of the IT budget.

Meanwhile, Federal agencies expect to spend nearly $60 billion on life support for legacy systems - the kinds of aging, labor-intensive solutions that cloud promises to make obsolete.

That, notes the Congressional Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group's report, is where cloud's greatest potential lies. It's why Federal CIO Tony Scott says in the report, "If everyone does it, cloud could be huge."

Too many box-huggers - those who don't want to even look at cloud - and fence sitters - those dipping a toe into the cloud, but not yet ready to make a mainstream cloud transition. What's needed are more cloud pioneers - those willing to drive to the plate.

What's to be done?

The Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group identifies three central solutions in its report:

  • Tell the Truth: The White House should set and enforce deadlines as well as increase transparency on actual cloud spending. Squishy numbers make for squishy standards. But clear numbers will drive change
  • Change the Game: The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) - a government-wide cloud security standards initiative - has made good progress in certifying commercial and government Cloud Service Provider's (CSP) offerings. But the FedRAMP program office is underfunded and resourced - meaning that a program designed to help cloud adoption may actually be unwittingly holding it back. Increased funding could help streamline cloud adoption, the report says
  • Think Bigger: Uncle Sam has already picked much of the low-hanging cloud fruit, like transitioning email and collaboration software. So now agencies need to identify where cloud solutions can help save money, speed development, improve services, and increase mission effectiveness.

Like Bryce Harper, who in his fourth Major League season now appears to be his generation's Babe Ruth, cloud computing also has nearly limitless potential. But it's up to Federal IT managers, leaders in Congress, and others to make sure they are swinging for the fences by putting cloud in their lineup.