Federal cloud migration proving more difficult than expected

Embracing cloud computing is seen as one of the federal government's highest IT priorities, as the technology offers tremendous potential for improving a wide range of business processes. However, migrating IT services to cloud environments has proven far more difficult than many federal IT leaders anticipated, InformationWeek recently reported.

Speaking at the recent FOSE government technology conference, Dawn Leaf, deputy CIO at the Labor Department, expressed this widely shared sentiment.

"Intuitively we would all think that moving to commercially provided services or federal shared services would be easier," said Leaf, the news source reported. "I would argue that, based on our experience over the last 18 months or so at DOL, this is not necessarily the case. There are some things that are easier; there are some things that are harder."

Highlighting this issue, the news source noted that the DOL moved two legacy systems to cloud environments. The agency's time-and-attendance human resources application went to a federal shared-services model hosted by the Treasury Department while the agency's email system moved to Microsoft 365 for Government's federal community cloud. According to Leaf, these efforts ultimately proved successful, but the process was far from smooth.

"One of the things that we found with cloud email is that the real work was in getting the environment ready to connect," Leaf explained, according to InformationWeek . "We found we had over 150 inconsistencies in office infrastructures that we had to clean up before we could even move to the platform to access Microsoft 365."

A widespread issue
Difficulties moving federal IT services to cloud environments are not limited to the Department of Labor. Speaking at the same conference as Leaf, Robert Owens, CIO of the Office of the Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Department, explained the challenges that his and other departments face.

"People talk about cloud solutions, and you might think they are easy," said Owens, the news source reported. "They are not easy. That was a lesson we learned. You have to be enterprise-ready. You're taking an enterprise-ready solution and plugging into your environment, and where there are deficiencies, you're going to find out quickly."

Perhaps acknowledging this issue, Congress is now considering a bill that proposes new cloud standards for the Department of Defense. This bill, in addition to addressing issues concerning cybersecurity and cost savings, emphasized the need for the DOD to take thorough steps to prepare for the advent of cloud services.

"This legislation will allow DOD to take full advantage of the cloud services and best practices from both the government and commercial sector, which will, in turn, decrease costs, increase accessibility and allow for a more secure system overall," said Rep. Niki Tsongas, Gov Info Security reported.

Considering the challenges inherent to cloud migration on such a large scale, most federal agencies would be wise to consider working with a third-party solutions provider to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of such an effort.