Federal cloud speeds on while states lag optimistically behind

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The cloud is becoming an efficient and cheap model for how large organizations get business done. Federal agencies are making rapid, large strides toward cloud computing. But at the state level, things have been a bit more tricky in transitioning.

Several chief information officers and leading executives in the IT community from across the nation joined together Thursday at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ 2014 Midyear Conference in Baltimore to discuss cloud expansion at the state level. While they described a bumpy ride so far in the transition to cloud computing, all remained optimistic about the future of cloud in their home states.

Around the country, for both federal and state governments, cloud is “very much in a transition to a new way of doing business,” said Dugan Petty, the moderator of the panel and a senior fellow at the Center for Digital Government. Admitting that cloud uptake has been slower than expected, he addressed a trio of state officials on their strategies, struggles and outlooks in the cloud.

Todd Kimbriel, director of the Data Center Services and eGovernment Division for the Texas Department of Information Resources, led his state into the cloud in 2010 as part of a pilot project designed to to explore what exactly cloud computing was. He said there were “lot’s of myths and very little in the way of reality” at the time.

Since then, the cloud has solidified into a more tangible idea, though its definition is the subject of many arguments. But that doesn’t mean its been any easier to get people at the state level on board, according to Jim Sills, Delaware’s Secretary of the Department of Technology and Information, and the state’s CIO.

The panel agreed that procuring cloud services is a struggle because of dated legislation that makes it hard to negotiate terms and conditions with large vendors. And internally, many agencies “just don’t get it,” Sills said. “And we have to spend a lot of time educating them on it.” Nevertheless, his state has implemented a cloud-first policy, which has successfully transitioned 85 percent of Delaware’s state-owned computing to a virtual infrastructure.

Each state differs in its cloud implementation, but they all seem to face very similar problems. Illinois CIO Sean Vinck, a former lawyer, spoke of problems similar to Sills’ relating to procurement code.

“Laws and rules are something of a barrier,” he said. “And I think that’s a barrier that can be overcome.” However, he didn’t have an answer yet as to how.

Challenges at the state level differ somewhat from the cloud experience in the federal government, where cloud is surpassing expectations in both effectiveness and dollars spent. In fiscal year 2014, federal cloud spending was $800 million more than the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate. And in 2015, the experts expect the same as they move much more smoothly toward ubiquitous cloud use in agencies.

Despite the uphill battle CIOs and IT officials are facing in their home states, they see a positive outcome in the near future. But first, they all agreed, it’s going to take more work.

“We’re addicted to running a data center and being in the infrastructure business,” Vinck said. “We have to rethink and repurpose the resources and energy we put into [the IT process].”

But if that transformation can occur on a cultural level and CIOs begin recruiting teams with multiple skill sets to adapt to the changing landscape, Sills thinks an effective cloud infrastructure is just around the corner.

“Cloud is here to stay,” he said,  “and it’s going to develop very rapidly over the next four to five years.”

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