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Winning Support for Your Cloud Vision


Technology leaders must consider different stakeholders when making the case for cloud projects.

For state and local government CIOs, developing an overarching strategy around cloud is an important first step. But they also must sell that vision to their stakeholders — the lawmakers and executive staff who fund IT, agency leadership focused on their own mission and goals, and the technology staff tasked with implementing and supporting new solutions.

"It's important to talk to all these groups about strategy and the roadmap to modernizing applications, the role cloud-based solutions play, and how technology organizations are prepared to implement them,” says Teri Takai, co-director of the Center for Digital Government (CDG).

Conversations about cloud adoption should be tailored to the needs and interests of each group — legislators, the executive branch, agencies and employees, adds Takai. “In order to have a successful cloud strategy, you have to be able to address all four.”

Fortunately, those conversations are becoming easier. The role cloud-based technology played in ensuring continuity of government services after workers were sent home during the COVID-19 pandemic changed stakeholder perspectives, says CDG Senior Fellow Brenda Decker.

“Prior to that, people often didn’t understand the difference between cloud and on-premises environments,” says Decker, former CIO for the state of Nebraska. “It was difficult for people to let go of the server mindset — but all of the sudden, they had to.”

Consider these focus areas as you engage with stakeholders:

Legislative bodies: Lawmakers are more concerned about prudent expenditures of government funds than specific technologies used to deliver services. “If a CIO is presenting a budget to a legislative body, they’re going to be talking about ensuring the public’s money is spent wisely,” Takai says. “Legislators want low-cost solutions that provide benefit.”

Focus on the “why” behind cloud implementations when speaking with elected officials, Decker adds. That may involve addressing challenges that arose during the pandemic or improving access to government services and meeting citizen expectations for digital experience.

“We as technologists want to get into the weeds,” she says. “But we actually need to talk about bigger enterprise issues.”

CIOs also should get to know individual lawmakers who are interested in technology issues and explain how a cloud proposal specifically benefits their constituents. One state CIO even printed baseball cards of every legislator before testifying so he could quickly reference their priorities and how a proposal would help their district, according to Decker.

If the conversation delves into technology details, CIOs may want to stress the additional resources cloud providers can offer on cybersecurity or ransomware response, as well as the ability to scale services — and costs — up and down based on demand.

Executive branch: Mayors and governors once made declarations about being “cloud first” or “cloud smart” — policies which CIOs were subsequently charged with executing. But the buzzwords have quieted down, Takai says. Now, CIOs must explain to chief executives why cloud solutions provide better results at lower cost.

“This needs to be about cloud makes life better for their constituents,” Decker says. One strategy: give executives examples they can use in their own elevator pitches with lawmakers, such as ensuring public services are available 24/7. “You’ve got to make it personal and ring true with what people are saying isn’t working with government,” she says.

In addition, CIOs must work with the executive team to make sure budgets and procurement processes reflect the shift from capital to operating expenditures to facilitate cloud adoption . “What becomes important is that the CIO is working closely with the budget director, so they understand how cloud implementations change the way IT budgets are structured,” Takai says.

Executive support also is critical for addressing "rogue IT" — unsanctioned technology solutions deployed without the knowledge or oversight of the central IT department. Cloud makes it easier for agencies or departments to launch rogue installations, and CIOs will need executive help to curb these potentially dangerous activities.

“You lose control of spending, you lose control of costs and you can jeopardize your cybersecurity position,” Takai says. “You need executive support in saying that IT has to have a role in whatever agencies buy and implement.”

Agencies: Agency or department leadership’s reaction to cloud projects can be influenced by a range of factors, including resistance from their own technology teams because of concerns about the potential impact on their jobs. The response depends on whether the CIO has authority to provide guidance or manage technology projects.

Buy regardless of the structure, CIOs must build relationships with agency leaders and their technology staffs.

“We often don’t stop and look at the business needs of our customers as closely as we should,” Decker says. "It's also important to boil proposals down to specific benefits: 'This is a problem I know you’re having, and we can help you with it.'"

Employees: Employees in agencies and central IT organizations often fear the impact cloud technologies may have on their jobs. In response, CIOs can stress the goal isn’t to eliminate jobs, but to ensure workers develop up-to-date skills, Decker says.

Technology leaders also should closely examine employee policies and legal ramifications of personnel shifts whenever new systems are brought on board. “It’s a very delicate dance a CIO plays when they move to newer technologies,” says Takai.