Technology: Even the Government is in the Cloud

Everyone wants a piece of the cloud. The U.S. government hopes its year-old cloud-first policy will streamline its services, reduce its IT dependency and make it more efficient. What do you hope to get out of the cloud?

4 min read

Everyone, it seems, is moving to the cloud. It’s been over a year since the U.S. government began its cloud-first policy. In fact, the guy who put it into place – Vivek Kundra, the country’s first chief information officer – joined cloud pioneer Salesforce last month. So, why is the government looking at cloud solutions first? Its agencies want the efficiencies, cost savings, hassle-free upgrades and flexibility that the cloud offers. There are a stable of apps to handle email, customer (or, in this case, constituent) inquiries, documentation and more. Folks in the U.K. have a fun shorthand for the cloud-based management of government service, G-Cloud. The desire to move to cloud is based, in part, on the real-world experiences in the failures and costs of on-premise solutions. In fiscal year 2010, before the U.S. government launched its cloud-first policy,  30 cents of every federal IT dollar went to data center infrastructure, according to the Chief Information Officer’s department. Despite all of that cash, the systems were inefficient. They lacked the scalability to deal with user spikes. That gets in the way of doing business – or, in the government’s case, handling citizens’ requests. A great example of the limits of legacy, on-premise systems was Cash-for-Clunkers. This stimulus program was designed to get older cars off the road and encourage spending by offering $3,000 to $4,500 in stipends toward the purchase of a fuel-efficient car to people who traded in gas-guzzlers. Here is the U.S. information office’s breakdown of what happened after the program’s launch: “Within three days of the first dealer registrations, the system was overwhelmed, leading to numerous outages and service disruptions.” With a cloud-based system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which handled Cash-for-Clunkers, could have rapidly scaled capacity to meet the unpredicted demand. Not only have on-premise solutions proved unable to scale with demand, they are also expensive. The U.S. Army’s system for tracking potential recruits from its Army Experience Center reflects the potential costs of on-premises systems. When it expanded the center in 2008, the Army knew it needed to expand its CRM system, too. While the legacy, on-premise solution had been upgraded over the years, the initial bids to upgrade for the expansion using traditional infrastructure ranged from half-a-million dollars to $1 million. In the end, the Army went with a SaaS, cloud-based solution that cost 10 percent of the initial on-premise bids. For a mere $54,000, the Army got a scalable solution that has proved more efficient than its on-premise rivals. With an eye toward security and a plan to avoid getting tied to a single provider, the government is looking for cost savings, efficiencies and more in the cloud. What do you think you’ll get from the switch? (To read the U.S. Cloud-First policy, visit