The Cloud: A Catalyst for a More Efficient and Secure Government

Summary of Study

"The cloud is not just strategic but existential. Some firms owe their very existence to the cloud, whether they call it that or not. Others can blame their demise to a failure to formulate effective cloud strategies." So said Joe Weinman, the digital strategist and technology executive, in his 2012 book Cloudonomics.

No statement on technology has proven more prescient, as businesses around the globe have stampeded to embrace cloud technology. The cloud has democratized technology and become a tool for innovation and collaboration like no other. And everyone benefits from the efficiencies of the cloud.

The Department of Defense might have laid the technical foundation for the Internet a few decades ago, but today its technology lags the private sector; so understandably it is trying to play catch-up, to the tune of $10 billion or more, with the JEDI cloud contract.

The Defense Department, however, isn’t unique among government agencies looking to take advantage of emerging digital tools. The government has struggled to keep pace with new technologies, despite the urgency to maintain modern technology systems, and cybersecurity in particular.

Last year, the Trump administration ordered the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to assess the state of cybersecurity as part of an executive order promoting IT modernization. OMB’s recently released “Risk Determination Report and Action Plan” found that three-quarters of the 96 federal agencies it reviewed were either “at risk” or “at high risk” of being compromised. Only one-in-four has the basic capability to detect and investigate data breaches. When you look at what government agencies are spending on people and technology, compared to private industry, the budget inefficiencies are glaring.

Vivek Kundra, former U.S. chief information officer under President Barak Obama, said that “Cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing, because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cybersecurity personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies.”

Executive orders and legislative actions in recent years show the desire to improve, but progress is not occurring fast enough. The “old guard” defense industrial base companies and beltway system integrators often contribute to the slow adoption of modern technology by hindering innovation that threatens long-held, profitable relationships.  Those delays cause problems.

The purchase of hardware and software, not services, historically has driven the government procurement process for IT applications. Unfortunately, neither agility nor efficiency is part of that legacy model. As a result, adoption of new technology solutions, or the addition of updated products onto existing infrastructures is burdensome, costly and inefficient.  It is common for the technology being procured through the government contracting process to become outdated before the contract becomes final. This is a boat anchor on government progress and puts it further and further behind the innovation curve.

The cloud changes this.  Under an administration that claims to value cost savings and efficiency, there is an opportunity to modernize government, while simultaneously improving its security posture.

Commercial cloud service providers are highly incentivized to provide a product that is less costly, more resilient, more flexible, easier to scale, and highly redundant. These providers also are more robust and have more mature security programs than almost any individual customer.

In a world in which cloud computing has demonstrated the catalytic potential to transform industries and enhance the security of our nation’s warfighters, the government remains burdened by dated technology. That’s unfortunate, and watering down the best solutions to appease those vendors and contractors protecting their legacy turf is a disservice to both the government and the American taxpayer.

Following the Pentagon’s release of its final request for proposal for a cloud contract, the Department of Defense can begin playing catch-up. Now is not the time for further delay – the warfighters need it, the department will be more secure with it, and taxpayers will save with it.

Mark Weatherford is Senior Vice President and Chief Cybersecurity Strategist at vArmour. He was the first Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security.

Feature Charticle

Marine Corps photo by SSgt T. T. Parish


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