Jeff Gould from Peerstone Research has 20 years of experience in technology publishing and IT market research. Karen Evans is the former Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget. Karen's 28 year career in information technology with the U.S. Government makes her one of our country's leading voices on IT policy. Below, Jeff conducts a brief interview with Karen to get her take on the Cloud First initiative, an effort to promote adoption of cloud computing among federal agencies:
Jeff Gould: Karen, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Now that Steven VanRoekel has replaced Vivek Kundra as Federal CIO, will he keep pushing to implement the Cloud First initiative that Kundra championed?
Karen Evans: Oh yes, definitely. One thing that people sometimes lose sight of is that Cloud First is really the administration's policy. The Federal CIO works for the president, so Steve will work to make sure that the administration's policy gets implemented. For Cloud First, the strategy is set. Now, it's all about showing results.
Jeff Gould: One of the biggest selling points of the cloud is that it will reduce wasteful duplication of IT systems in the federal agencies. You have pointed out that this problem has existed for a long time, for example in email systems. Why has it been so hard to eliminate federal IT redundancy?
Karen Evans: A lot of this has to do with the evolution of technology itself. When a new technology comes along, what ends up happening is that you want to put in a new service, but you still have the old service and user expectations about having the old service in place. You can't really turn one off and turn the other one on without a thoughtful transition plan. But, often you don't get all the funding you expected, or the final migration decision is delayed for some reason. Then, you get a period when both services are running at the same time, and that creates a lot of complexity. You also have legacy data that you will need to access from the new system. You often end up with a lot of spaghetti code to provide legacy data access.
Jeff Gould: How confident are you that the cloud will really provide the cost savings that its supporters promise?
Karen Evans: Agencies have a tendency to build systems for the maximum potential demand they think they might face. But maybe 90 percent of the time they have excess capacity that they are paying for. That's a perfect opportunity to really take a look at and say, 'okay, I could actually get rid of a lot of my capacity and move to an on-demand cloud.' The service provider is going to provision it, and the more I use it, the more they can build it out. So, it ends up becoming like a utility, like your electric service. You pay for what you use.
Jeff Gould: You make it sound easy. Is there anything that can go wrong in the cloud migration process?
Karen Evans: The short answer would be, yes. It could actually end up costing you more than the previous system depending on how you engineer the solutions. We start with a legacy application, so this is a business process. But it probably isn't the most efficient business process that you can have. If you take an inefficient business process and you put it into the cloud, it will just accelerate the inefficiencies.
Jeff Gould: So, you waste money faster than you did before?
Karen Evans: Right. You are not really going to be saving any money. With the cloud, just like any new technology, you need ask whether you really want continue doing things the old way, or change them.
Jeff Gould: How optimistic are you that the movement towards the cloud in the federal agencies is really going to produce, say, better than 15 percent or 20 percent cost savings within five years? Is that a reasonable goal, or is it too ambitious?
Karen Evans: Well, since you put it as a goal, I would say that it's a reasonable goal.
Jeff Gould: Let us rephrase that! Is it an achievable goal, not just a reasonable goal? What are the chances that we will achieve this goal or something like it?
Karen Evans: Well, I think you are more than likely to achieve that type of cost savings going forward, simply out of necessity. Because of the budget situation and the pressure on the budgets with the deficits, and the pressure on the agencies to really streamline the way they work. This is where we are going to see a lot of innovative thinking. So, this is a great time to have a new technology like the cloud become available. What the agencies have to do - and I hope they will do - is really sit down and take a look at what is the right type of application to move to the cloud, and how to best secure the data from that perspective. You have to do this analysis before you actually move the application to the cloud. Because history says if you don't do that type of analysis on any project, then it will cost more, not less.