This Volunteer Group of Government Techies Collaborates for Cloud Success

Because "these people in government actually do give a crap."

A federal group dedicated to driving commonality governmentwide to accelerate cloud adoption plans to get outside help and make its information-sharing platform easily and seamlessly accessible.

The General Services Administration stood up the Cloud Center of Excellence earlier this year to address cloud adoption barriers such as acquisition, workforce education and outreach, standardized service offerings and security. It was co-chaired by Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray.

The center has since created a framework to shed light on what it does. The “Cloud Adoption Strategies, Tips, Lessons Learned and Experiences,” or CASTLE, provides scenarios of various stages of the cloud adoption process and next steps, says Chad Sheridan, chief information officer of the Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency and CCOE lead.

CCOE participants share cloud adoption work in the OMB MAX Portal. USDA, for example, has already shared its cloud business analysis guide.

However, the CCOE needs the private sector’s help.

“Because we know that there’s no way we can do this alone,” Sheridan said. “The idea that the government has all the answers is ludicrous.”

On Sept. 27, the CCOE is talking with providers and integrators about the CASTLE guide, and getting feedback on some of the things the center is sharing, areas it should concentrate on and additional opportunities to collaborate.

“We want to make this a reoccurring piece,” Sheridan said. He hopes the CCOE can establish a backlog of its work, make it visible and prioritized= to set attainable goals.  

So far, the CCOE has more than 130 participants from 48 different agencies, sub-agencies or components. It has representation from 15 of the 24 CFO Act Agencies and nine of the 10 top cloud-spending agencies in the fiscal year 2017 budget. The idea is to increase the likelihood that like-minded get together and solve a problem, similar to the virtual sense of bumping into coworkers at the water cooler.

However, Sheridan wants to make the CCOE’s online portal more interesting by using tools self-governing guiding teams leverage. On the portal, users can see what is being worked on, who’s done what and when they think that task will be done. Tasks in the “done” bin are available for comment, for example, or if somebody has an idea and sees it already in the portal, they can help rather than start from scratch.

“This is a collaborative self-organizing group; we need the tools and information, the work practices, to fit that model,” Sheridan said.

This means looking at what tool set the CCOE can use, as some agencies don’t allow users to access certain sites or platforms.

“So we’ve got to find a way to bridge that barrier, for the portal and in general,” Sheridan said.

Though it doesn’t house sensitive information, the portal will not be publicly available. It will also  remain a government-only group secured enough at low credibility. However, the CCOE is looking into tools it can use so everybody has access, can be quickly on-boarded and contribute.

The information available in the portal is driving people to participate, and after getting the word out, Sheridan’s next step is figuring out how visitors understand exactly what the portal is showing and can immediately see the work available to contribute on.

“So I’m going to lessen that time between ‘I heard about CCOE’ and ‘oh yeah, I can make a difference,” he said.

In fact, the level of information sharing has proven to be a change in culture, though people haven’t had much incentive to do so. Sheridan believes most people working in the government want to drive value, so for the CCOE, it’s the leaders’ jobs to make it easy and safe for government agencies to share information and learn from each other’s mistakes.

To spread this message, the CCOE is working on continuous education and outreach. It will seek out the roadblocks and barriers of cloud adoption in government and remove them by showing what other agencies are doing, from leadership and creating common acquisition vehicles to the tools agencies are using to put workloads in the cloud. It also wants to push for mission-driven outcomes rather than cost-driven ones in order to achieve success.

For example, if one bureau is migrating its entire portfolio to the cloud, it should be doing so in a manner extensible to the agency and government as a whole. Currently, there is no incentive to do this, but Sheridan believes participants in the CCOE want to see that change.

“How do we as leaders of this group enable that to happen … to provide the environment where people think about that, to take on that additional burden that indirectly benefits them because it benefits the government as a whole?” Sheridan said. “Left to its own devices, it doesn’t happen. That’s where CCOE can make a difference in cloud.”

If that behavior is rewarded, published and shown to drive value, it can also drive a cultural change to move past current limitations, he said.

As of now, the biggest challenge the CCOE faces is making it easy for people to contribute work.  

“Nobody is backing this stuff up to the money tree, and I think it also shows Congress, the administration and the people that these government people actually do give a crap, they are actually trying to make it better, and so now we’ve got to find the means by which they can make it better,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan is aligning the CCOE with the Federal CIO Council and Office of Management and Budget to hook the center into the standard governance piece of governmentwide initiatives. Not because it’s necessary, but because he wants the administration and council to know what the CCOE is up to. He plans to provide the administration with what exactly the CCOE wants to accomplish in FY18. It is still an all-volunteer effort with no user fees or appropriations. Those interested can email CCOE@GSA.gov.

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