It took a pandemic for OPM to adopt cloud

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The need to make informed telework decisions during the pandemic led the Office of Personnel Management to create its cloud practice from scratch, said a senior advisor to OPM’s chief information officer.

OPM‘s facilities management team was spending two to three hours a day scraping data on COVID-19 cases from state and federal websites. Only then could the team update its spreadsheet helping decide when to reopen offices, said Akanksha Sharma.

Recognizing OPM was taking too long to consolidate and analyze data on the coronavirus, Sharma reached out to the General Services Administration‘s Cloud Adoption Center of Excellence (CoE) for help developing a faster solution for the facilities team.

“I really jumped on that with the help of the CoE team because I just thought it was such a great, tangible use case to drive business value,” Sharma said. “So within three weeks, we were able to create a dashboard for them.”

The agency custom-developed an open-source, Python application because a commercial off-the-shelf solution would’ve taken months to go through internal approvals — time OPM didn’t have dealing with COVID-19. The resulting dashboard was displayed using JavaScript and HTML libraries.

OPM needed to make the dashboard easily accessible as soon as possible, so the agency’s first cloud instance was procured. Now officials want to take that instance agency-wide and begin configuring it to enterprise settings, Sharma said.

“The next major step is for us to create a procurement strategy that allows us to actually scale the cloud,” Sharma said. “Since we needed something quickly, I think we did it on a purchase card, so you really can’t put too many high-performing applications on there.”

While standing up the dashboard, Sharma’s team worked with OPM’s cybersecurity team to streamline the authority to operate process and create a playbook for adding additional apps to the cloud in the future. But only publicly available information was cleared for dashboard use, so the other immediate step OPM must take is working with its security and privacy teams to clear Federal Information Security Management Act moderate data for the cloud as well, Sharma said.

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Centers of excellence, Cloud, coronavirus, FISMA, General Services Administration (GSA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
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