When Guy Cavallo arrived at the Small Business Administration in January to become deputy chief information officer, he brought a whole bag of tricks to apply to SBA’s migration cloud
computing. For the previous two years at the Transportation Security Administration, he oversaw that agency’s move to the cloud and came away with a comprehensive set of lessons learned.
To Cavallo, the technology is the easy part.
“I always call a migration or transformation like this a people project more than a technology project,” he told FedScoop.
Cavallo started his job at SBA Jan. 8, and after a month, the agency’s migration to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform was well under way. Creating a team-based structure to effectively manage the process was key to the smooth start, Cavallo said.
“The federal government has a lot of contractors, and it was very important that I had federal leads responsible for contractors and not just contractor leads not reporting to anyone,” he said.
“I had done a similar thing at TSA and was able to bring the structure of how to move to the cloud to SBA. At TSA, it took us several months to figure that out, but I was able to bring that [approach] immediately to SBA and implement it within that first week.”
SBA’s five “cloud tiger teams,” each of which is “owned” or spearheaded by a federal manager, were given areas of responsibility, including service management, engineering, automation,
migration and cloud operations. Cavallo serves as the executive sponsor of the project.
Altogether, close to 40 people are working on the project — about 15 on the federal side and 15 to 20 on the contractor side, Cavallo said.
“We didn’t create a separate, new organization to do the cloud, so all the federal employees still had their regular jobs,” he said. “The idea was they’re not going to have eight hours a day to
work on this; they might only be able to dedicate two hours a day, but let’s have them give guidance to the contractors who are available eight hours a day to get the work done. So we’re
still federally managed, and it allowed me to get more bang for the buck by not having a dedicated cloud team.
“No federal agency has people sitting around with cloud expertise waiting
for a job to become available,” he added.
Another innovative strategy involved security. Cavallo embedded a security specialist on every team rather than create a separate security team. The security specialists are “always at the table
in every discussion,” he said. “I found that the best way to do this is to keep security engaged across multiple fronts from the beginning and they can voice whatever their concerns are.”
Overcoming an entrenched culture in migrating to a services-based IT delivery model has been a major hurdle. Carvallo called it the culture bias of “what works now isn’t broken so why do have
to do all this extra stuff to fix it?”
“The culture that we had was the biggest obstacle, particularly at SBA where they’ve had 11 CIOs over the last 15 years,” he explained. “We had to convince people that [SBA CIO Maria Roat] and I are here for the long haul and that we are committed to the cloud and that we are also committed to their training. That took time. It took a major investment in training, and a lot of one-on-one with the staff.”
Every Friday, Cavallo hosts a “lunch and learn” session for staffers. “We review a cloud-based webinar on one of the topics that we’re currently working on, whether it’s identity management
or the security controls that are available through the cloud providers, and then we’ll have a discussion on what we just observed,” he told FedScoop.
One of SBA’s objectives in moving to a cloud-based IT business model is to reduce IT operating costs. When Cavallo came to SBA, he inherited a budget that did not request any funding for
cloud migration. So he had to find ways to fund the move without any additional money, including by modifying contracts for hardware and software maintenance to match SBA’s data-
center migration timeline.
“With no money available in our budget for cloud, the only way I could fund it would be to cut [funding for] existing budget and contracts, which traditionally a [chief financial officer] will
then take back and redeploy elsewhere,” Cavallo said. “So as we worked into this, we [told the financial office] that we won’t ask for any cloud money if they allow us to keep the money that
SBA has migrated about a hundred servers, with “several hundred” to go, Cavallo said, adding that full migration to cloud will take another six to eight months.
Cavallo’s chief lesson learned so far involves his perception of cloud migration as a “people project.” Support from the top-level executives is vital.
“If you do not have absolute executive sponsorship and buy-in, then don’t do it,” he said. “It’s a lot of change. The technology is by far the easiest part. It’s changing your processes, getting your staff educated on the newer tools and how to monitor and secure things — that’s the hard part.”