3 Tenets For High-Performance Cloud Operations
This blog was originally published by Booz Allen here.
Written by Osama Malik, Booz Allen Hamilton.
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These days, with technology progressing at a rapid, continuous, unrelenting clip, cloud capabilities offer federal agencies a way to achieve and maintain high performance in the face of constant change. Leveraged fully, such services can meaningfully transform the way agencies employ technology to fulfill their missions and serve the American people.
While agencies are indeed shifting more of their infrastructure into the cloud, they need to go further to get the most out of cloud’s power to drive high-value modernization at scale. Technology leaders can build a cloud foundation that’s optimized for sustained transformation by focusing on three key areas: letting go of commodity IT management, revamping legacy operating models, and embracing a product mindset. Let's unpack each of these imperatives.
1. Get Out of the Business of IT Management
Contemporary users of the government’s digital solutions—from citizens accessing public-facing applications to federal employees executing mission delivery on internal-facing software systems—expect and increasingly demand a user experience that’s as seamless, intuitive, and convenient as that offered by the digital service platforms commonly used in the commercial world. For some good examples, think of banking websites or travel-booking platforms that offer a full range of related services through a single, one-stop online portal.
When agencies devote time, budget, people, and other resources to managing their own, bespoke versions of IT assets that are now offered by external providers as serviced commodities, they’re in effect diverting those resources from activities that have a higher potential impact on mission—such as iteratively enhancing the user interfaces and customer experiences that directly deliver value to end users.
Today’s IT leaders require a change in mindset—a willingness to let go and move from fully owning and controlling every part of the IT stack, to trusting in a shared responsibility model through the integration of commodity cloud services. It’s a major shift for many organizations, but one that‘s foundational to continuously improving mission delivery at the pace of technological advancement.
Look to the Bureau of Fiscal Service for a leading example of this kind of thinking in action. By strategically leveraging technology partners to manage its IT infrastructure, the agency is freeing internal resources and providing upskilling opportunities to focus on making sure the architecture of its mission environments is effectively integrated and calibrated to meet unique operational needs. Fiscal Service’s technologists have leaned forward on commodity cloud services and can thus focus more of their time and talent toward delivering high-end and high-value mission capabilities, without having to directly control the technology stack from top to bottom.
“Today’s IT leaders require a change in mindset—a willingness to let go and move from fully owning and controlling every part of the IT stack, to trusting in a shared responsibility model through the integration of commodity cloud services.”
2. Toss Out the Old Operating Playbook
As agencies modernize their IT, they might be compelled to stick with what they know from an operating standpoint. But the industry best practices for cloud operations are strikingly different from what’s generally recommended for a traditional on-premises approach, to the extent that a one-to-one comparison hardly makes sense. Moving to the cloud while retaining an operating model that’s optimized for data centers can lead to tech sprawl, diminished role clarity, and an inability to achieve the intended value of cloud modernization.
For example, think about cybersecurity. Migrating off premises and into the cloud creates new, enterprise-wide security considerations that cannot be efficiently addressed without adjustments to operations. Another common issue is that the shift to cloud services requires integrated technology oversight—from cyber to networking—that cuts through the historical swim lanes that guide traditional IT management teams.
To smooth the friction between modernization and operations, it’s critical to centrally manage the transition to a cloud-first approach. Top-down decision making can help agencies cut through silos and ensure that teams are operating from the same cloud playbook and consuming the same standardized set of services. With targeted educational resources and a well-crafted enterprise change management strategy, leaders can move past common questions and concerns such as: Can we trust others to manage pieces of our infrastructure? What will the user experience be in the modern platform? Will we need to master new interfaces and processes?
Transforming agency operations is no easy task, raising questions such as how to best manage hybrid cloud environments, how to leverage data across disparate systems, and how to update processes that have been around for decades. With a new operating model and a change management plan, organizations won’t just migrate to the cloud—but they can effectively optimize for cloud operations.
3. Empower Product Teams to Build Fast by Building 'Small'
The ability to shift rapidly and react with agility is no longer a "nice to have," and locked-in mission systems pose significant risks when the goalposts move. From scaling up services in high-demand times to deploying existing data to deliver new capabilities, agencies require heightened flexibility to address urgent citizen needs, new legislation, advancing cyber threats, and matters of national defense.
In the past, organizations often built IT infrastructure to last for many years. Teams would plan every detail, build according to those plans, and deliver products precisely calibrated for a particular purpose. This dialed-in approach may still have value in niche conditions, but by now it should be the exception. High-value modernization requires solutions that allow for specificity while also maintaining continuous mission resilience when (not if) the mission evolves.
Agencies can effectively serve the evolving needs of their end users by shifting to a product mindset. Empowered to leverage commodity IT services within clearly enforced enterprise guardrails, product development teams can build incrementally around a moving target and prioritize the needs of a specific experience or customer group. One federal agency we're working with is embracing a product-based approach to provide a modern cloud and data management ecosystem for its federal acquisition business line stakeholders and application owners. Leveraging well-honed agile practices, customer feedback loops, transparent objectives, and key results, the agency is empowered to prioritize feature deployment on its product roadmap based on optimal stakeholder value and dynamic needs.
Properly managed, secured, and consumed, cloud capabilities provide a way for product teams to quickly spin up or build out new and improved capabilities in a cycle of continuous innovation—delivering, gathering feedback, adjusting, and delivering again.
“The ability to shift rapidly and react with agility is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ and locked-in mission systems pose significant risks when the goalposts move.”
Mission Modernization Starts with Incremental Change
The flexible mission systems of the future will be underpinned by the strategic integration of commodity IT services—from low-code platforms to serverless architectures. Transformation is a journey, and the "destination" (though there isn’t one, precisely) can feel elusive. Agencies should find immediate areas to tackle all the way through and create incremental value through cloud modernization. With tangible wins to point to, IT leaders can encourage a gradual cultural shift and can start modernizing their systems with an eye towards future requirements.
By making modular enhancements through cloud capabilities, organizations can achieve immediate value against their technical debt, gain experience rolling out new operations, navigate change management, and pivot to a product orientation that allows for constant calibration to a dynamic mission.