Don Goldberg is a partner with Bluetext, a communications and digital marketing firm based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in IT issues, especially as they relate to government.
Tell me about the surveys.
We wanted to understand the attitude among IT professionals about moving toward the cloud. It seems to be the flavor of the day, but it’s a very important way for government agencies to increase efficiency and save money. The issue was how much they know about it, and what kind of support they are getting.
So we did two different surveys. One was of 600 California voters, not in the IT space, basically a random selection of voters. Both of these surveys were done using a legitimate public opinion market survey firm. The first survey of the public asked: What do you know about the cloud? What do you think about using leveraging technology to save money and gain efficiency? Surprisingly, a large number of the sample in California had heard of the cloud. More importantly, there’s an overwhelming support at a state and local level, as well as a federal level, for managers and political leaders who run agencies and government to use technology, and particularly cloud technology, to save money to be able to cut budgets.
Separately what we did was a survey of government IT professionals. What was really interesting was the disconnect between the voter support and what IT managers were saying. Only 17 percent found they were getting the kind of support they thought they should get.
Explain cloud computing.
It basically means that rather than an organization or government agency having computer servers in the back room managing all of their computer processes, they essentially have another company managing that for them at a remote location. That’s the cloud, it’s sort-of in the ether somewhere, it’s not where you are.
What are the benefits?
You’re not responsible for when the system goes down. Somebody else is taking care of that, the downtime is nonexistent. You’re not responsible for upgrades and making sure it’s keeping in working order. All those people hammering around in backrooms don’t need to be doing that. They can be put to other tasks because that is being outsourced to somebody else.
A basic example of cloud computing would be email services. You can have you own system, which many government agencies still do because that’s the way these were all built. But you don’t have to do that anymore. Many companies, like Google with Gmail, have systems where you outsource and they take care of all the processes. It’s much more cost-effective and efficient.
Some of the more obscure ways to use the cloud are data center warehousing or consolidation. If you’re an agency, you have tons and tons of records, you don’t necessarily need to keep those yourself in your own building. You pay the fees, real estate, servers, and staffing time. You can essentially allow that to be handled through a service in the cloud. There are really good examples at the federal level of financial management that is being handled outside the original program so that agencies don’t have to build all this complicated software and integrate all their databases into it.
What are some issues holding back adoption of cloud computing?
Some outsourcing could be controversial. You could raise issues about privacy of data, how secure it is, etc. But what I can tell you is that many government agencies have outsourced, using cloud email systems and all sorts of law enforcement systems, and the security is actually much better because they have fulltime security working around the clock with the best access and the best tools. You don’t have to have a separate IT security team in place that needs to be on call and as proficient.
If you’re a government agency and security is something you really have to pay attention to, you have personally identifiable information, in your system, social security numbers, medical records, or just going about internal things if you’re involved with law enforcement and investigations. That’s sensitive information, that’s natural to be concerned about. But the security that is available by these services, which this is what they do full time, is much better than anything you could build internally. For example if you look at Gmail, Google’s security system is far, far better. They have teams of people and that’s all they do, the best people in the world, providing this kind of security. You could never, in a cost-effective way, hire that capability internally if you’re a government agency. It wouldn’t make sense to do that.
In Washington, probably as much as in California, telecommuting is a huge issue. Any time any worker can spend less time wasted in the car and more time working, that’s time they can be more productive and happier employees. With cloud services, you can provide ready access wherever anybody is. So cloud technology really makes telecommuting and remote working much more efficient.
In California, you have lots of state and local workers who are just not in their office, they may be out at environmental sites or energy sites, that’s a great opportunity to use cloud services. The old days of having to go through a really cumbersome VPN, private network system, are quickly coming to an end.
What I think is holding it back is cultural shifts. It’s much easier to have confidence in a system, in a backroom where all the servers are with a guy that goes in there. As human beings, we like the personal touch, we like to see human beings working on things. And cloud is still relatively new. I think once people understand the benefits they’re going to get much more comfortable with it.
I’m not pimpin’ for Google here, but Google’s downtime is measured in seconds per year. The thing about security now is that every system in the country is being attacked and threatened repeatedly all the time now. It’s not a question of if your attacked it’s a question of how often. Wouldn’t you rather have the real professionals at big companies where all they do for a living is provide protection services for these types of data consolidations?