The pandemic has accelerated government organizations’ adoption of cloud. But it has also shifted how those organizations use the cloud—using cloud’s scalability, flexibility, and shareability to revolutionize services. How can they keep up the momentum?
The pandemic caused many government agencies to dive headfirst into cloud. The flexibility and scalability of cloud allowed governments to meet the urgent challenges of the pandemic, such as massive surges in demand for services or the sudden shift to remote work. As a result, governments at all levels made considerable investments in cloud, but now they face difficult choices about how to maintain, develop, and build upon these new cloud investments.
While many government organizations had adopted cloud in the past, the pandemic shifted priorities for those that were not yet cloud-first in their approach to infrastructure. Suddenly, cloud was not just one of many priorities for an IT organization within a government agency, but was the key capability for both IT and business operations to keeping services running. However, as some of the initial stresses of the pandemic ease, those other competing priorities have not gone away and may soon be clamoring for resources. This leaves government CIOs and technology leaders with difficult questions about what worked in the pandemic, what to keep, what to make permanent, and what to leave behind.
Our research shows that the pandemic has shifted how government organizations use cloud. Not only have late adopters jumped into cloud, but government organizations of all stripes are increasingly looking to use cloud to improve core mission services. To capitalize on the momentum of the pandemic requires more than just an inventory of technology tools—it often requires changes to the organizational culture, workforce, and a different approach to how agencies use cloud. These changes can improve organizations as they shift from using cloud solely as an infrastructure tool to also taking advantage of the scalability, flexibility, and shareability inherent in cloud to revolutionize how services are delivered to citizens.
While such shifts can be difficult, a few key adjustments can help begin the journey. By adapting the strategy, assessments, governance, and people needed, government organizations can put cloud to work for citizens. And not just for today, but into the future as well.
The three eras of cloud in government
Before examining where cloud in government is going, it might be useful to take a broader look at the history of cloud in government. Broadly, government agencies’ approach to cloud can be bucketed into three eras:
- The problem-solving era. This first era was focused on solving the technical and security problems that stood in the way of cloud adoption. The period was characterized by the launch of the policy, technical, and security documents that allowed government organizations to adopt cloud. For example, the White House introduced its Cloud First (now reimaged as Cloud Smart) policy in December 2010. Soon, security and technical standards such as FedRAMP1 followed. The National Institute of Standards and Technology also released standards and a definition of cloud computing in 2011. Many agencies moved their noncritical applications (such as email services) to cloud to eliminate expensive in-house servers in this era.
- The competing-priorities era. Once various technical and security challenges to cloud were addressed, organizations had to wrestle with when they would move to cloud. Cloud migration had to compete with legacy systems and other technology and business priorities for the same limited resources. While many agencies did invest in cloud, those investments were often piecemeal, with mission organizations migrating only a few select services or applications. The result is often a patchwork of cloud utilization without the organizational foundations needed to realize its full benefits.
- The maximizing-the-mission era. Once agencies adopt cloud at scale, they enter the third era of cloud in government: trying to determine how best to unlock the mission value of cloud. Cloud technology comes with some inherent capabilities such as flexibility and scalability. However, organizations must determine how to apply those capabilities to their mission to benefit citizens.
Cloud provided the flexibility demanded by the pandemic
Prior to the pandemic, some early-adopter government organizations implemented cloud at scale and moved to the third era. The steady growth of federal spending on cloud contracts stretching back the better part of a decade is evidence of the progress of these at-scale adopters.
However, many were also stuck in the second era, with cloud continually being outcompeted by other priorities, delaying at-scale adoption. The burden of maintaining legacy systems, combined with government’s unique challenge of changing priorities which accompany new leaders or administrations, meant that it was easy for significant cloud investments to be outcompeted for finite budget resources. As the cost of maintaining legacy systems is baked into existing budgets, it is easy for agencies to consistently put off cloud investments year after year, effectively keeping organizations in this second era of perpetually considering cloud.
That reality for many government organizations changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic broke the cycle of perpetual consideration and pushed many more agencies into the third era.
During the pandemic, the unprecedented strains faced by government organizations seemed tailor-made for the strengths of cloud. Sudden increases in demand for services could be met by the instant scalability of cloud. The virtual nature of cloud services could meet the need to immediately shift to remote work.
The result was that many government organizations turned to cloud to solve many of the new challenges the pandemic introduced to their organization—challenges that often required scalability to address unprecedented demand for existing services, agility to set up entirely new programs, and/or flexibility to support both their customers and their workers remotely. For instance, Rhode Island modernized its unemployment insurance (UI) contact center, using cloud technology to respond to the surge in claims. Within 10 days of migrating to the cloud, the state went from a capacity of 75 concurrent calls to 2,000. Similar stories emerged across the country from New York―which modernized UI and transit systems to cope with fluctuating demand―to California―which used cloud to offer services via “virtual” Department of Motor Vehicle offices.
By Meghan Sullivan, Malcolm Jackson, Joe Mariani & Pankaj Kamleshkumar Kishnani
Read the full report at https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/public-sector/public-sector-cloud-adoption.html.