IT Leaders, Security Concerns Slowing Federal Cloud Adoption

MeriTalk survey of federal tech professionals reveals potential cloud savings and obstacles to future deployment.

by / May 7, 2012

IT leaders are among the most opposed to cloud adoption, according to an online survey of federal government CIOs and IT managers.

Out of 108 respondents, 20 percent felt that those in IT leadership positions were the strongest voices against moving to cloud technology. Program management (18 percent) and legal personnel (17 percent) also rated as significant opposition to the computing platform. Security (85 percent) ranked as the No. 1 obstacle to cloud use, followed by the federal agency culture and service levels.

The survey, Cloudy with a Chance of Savings, was conducted in April by the MeriTalk Cloud Computing Exchange, an online government community. The survey findings were originally presented on April 25 at the Cloud Computing Brainstorm on Capitol Hill event in Washington, D.C.

Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, said the findings could be read a couple of different ways. On one hand, IT leaders know the most about the platform’s security concerns and as a result, may be more hesitant to adopt them. On the other hand, moving to the cloud means fewer systems to manage, which may not appeal to tech leaders who are less amenable toward change.

Overall, O’Keeffe felt the concern about security was more indicative of education about cloud computing, rather than the platform’s safety.

“I haven’t seen any studies that say enterprise systems are any safer than cloud systems, and [enterprise systems] are breached all the time,” O’Keeffe said. “There needs to be an education and awareness program so we can get some real data to make decisions.”

On the financial side, the survey revealed that cloud computing is saving $5.5 billion in annual federal savings, based on the fiscal year 2013 IT budget of $78.9 billion, with 11 percent of agencies’ IT budgets spent on cloud technology.

According to MeriTalk, federal agencies could have saved 15 percent of their IT budgets over the last three years by using the cloud, totaling more than $36.1 billion — or $12 billion per year.

Difference of Opinion

While 70 percent of those answering the survey felt that the number of applications their agency will support will increase during the next two years, respondents believed the federal IT budget would decrease in the coming years. Overall, by fiscal year 2016, those surveyed expected an average budget of $78 billion — a reduction of $900 million from fiscal 2013.

But there is significant disparity between Department of Defense (DoD) and civilian federal workers regarding the 2016 budget. The MeriTalk survey reported that DoD personnel think the budget will decrease to approximately $72.4 billion by fiscal 2016, whereas civilians were more positive, anticipating an increase to $80.1 billion.

O’Keeffe believed the difference of opinion between the two groups comes down to communication efforts.

“I think the DoD leadership has been emphatic about the fact the federal IT budget is going to go down,” O’Keeffe said. “There has been no confusion about that whatsoever. I don’t think there necessarily has been the same clear leadership on the civilian agency side.”

The disagreement between the DoD and civilian workers extended to the topic of key cloud applications that would drive further savings. While survey participants selected collaboration tools (48 percent), email (47 percent) and administrative apps (43 percent) as the top cloud applications, the DoD and civilians were sharply divided.

The DoD was more focused on administrative apps, while civilians were more likely to focus on conferencing software. The latter option garnered 28 percent overall in the survey.

O’Keeffe was adamant that while the usage of cloud technology may differ, the benefits of using the platform are clear, particularly as the U.S. faces an aging population and declining tax base.

“This whole thing about doing more with less — we need to do better with less,” he said. “Things that we’ve done historically we’re not going to be able to afford to do any more.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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