Karen Dahut

OPINION

Can you help customers see the cloud more clearly?

A focus on cost misses the deeper benefits of cloud computing

As the U.S. government moves to the cloud, unlocking the cloud’s true potential requires a more comprehensive analysis of the potential benefits – maximizing benefits for the organization beyond cost savings – and how those benefits can be achieved.

The cloud’s appeal to both the public and private sectors is strong – and growing. In particular, the impact of executive mandates (e.g., the “Cloud First” federal IT policy and the “Digital Government” strategy), the need to address increasing cyber threats, and pressure to cut costs are  driving government agencies to research, select and implement cloud solutions, quickly.

In this process, the design criteria used by government CIOs to evaluate and select a cloud solution is often cost-centric versus needs and cost-centric. And rightfully so: cloud migration does offer the potential for significant cost savings.

A client should not necessarily jump to the lowest cost solution in lieu of the right solution for his or her organization’s needs. But the cloud’s true benefits may lie in other, high value areas – such as organizational intelligence, velocity, and productivity, which are essential components to achieve mission effectiveness and operating resilience.

Too narrow a focus on cost issues alone can distract senior decision makers from understanding these larger issues.

When exploring cloud solutions and their benefits, the art of the possible can often become overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Approaching a cloud strategy with the right set of questions can  put an agency on the right path to capture these powerful benefits.

What‘s required: a cloud-based services alternatives cost model that evaluates a wide range of factors – beyond just cost savings – to create a more informed, farther reaching business case.

Consider, for example, the potential for greater efficiency within the cloud – a common criteria and the basis for many cloud business cases. Often, this type of analysis looks at a fairly one-dimensional set of IT-based factors – data center costs and the like. Yet such an analysis fails to take into account the cloud’s impact on other areas like collaboration, mission fulfillment and disaster recovery.

A model that looks at the cloud from only one angle – albeit an important one – yields a far less informed view.

The result: at a minimum, the CIO is tasked with making a significant organizational decision, without the benefits of a true, total cloud understanding. That, in turn, increases the risk of unanticipated, unintended consequences down the line. Worse yet, it may preclude the ability to capitalize on new opportunities.

A thorough analysis of alternatives and consideration of business factors, productivity gains, and IT costs provides a more accurate view into the total value of a cloud transition.

Armed with this insight, agency leaders can set expectations for the impact and benefits of a cloud solution that is in alignment with clear business objectives. At the same time, this broader approach expands the possibilities for creating a deeper, more profound impact on the agency involved. A multi-dimensional model yields a multi-faceted outcome.

Take data management in the cloud: As an agency moves to a data lake approach – employing a secure, massive cloud storage method that readily accepts structured, unstructured and streaming data that uses tagging to make that data easy to access for all kinds of analysis –  data center costs potentially decrease.

In turn, the cost of extracting, transforming and loading data drops dramatically as do workforce costs related to reviewing and optimizing data as part of any traditional data ingest process. Yet that is just the beginning.

From there, a total cloud analysis moves on to consider how the data lake might impact – and improve – productivity or precision. The analysis includes:

  • How does faster, easier access to a larger pool of common data change the way the agency does business?
  • What other potential efficiencies can be uncovered?
  • What is the potential value that can be extracted from previously disparate data sources?
  • What are the questions that can be asked by the organization that couldn’t be asked before?
  • How far out can we extend the ripple effect– and benefit from it?

On the other hand, a more comprehensive analysis may guide the CIO away from an otherwise appealing option with hidden downside. For example, an agency might find a hybrid cloud model appealing – initially -- because it offers the greatest cost savings, at least within IT. Yet the same solution may, upon closer analysis, limit the agency’s ability to explore new ways to deliver services to its constituents. It may negatively impact the performance of other departments. It may do little to boost resilience and recovery.  

Thankfully, a total cloud analysis – one that looks at multiple factors – doesn’t have to dramatically slow down the migration to the cloud. With the government’s cloud mandate clear, CIOs are under considerable pressure to move quickly. A smart(er) approach to cloud modeling works on parallel paths to look at the cloud’s impact on multiple departments within the agency – without sacrificing the need for speed.

Unlocking the cloud’s true potential is all the more important as agencies grapple with fiscal uncertainty and are, in many instances, under pressure to re-imagine their missions.

The cloud is no cure-all, but a more thorough, multi-dimensional modeling of its impact can, in turn, help agencies tackle these even greater challenges. It all starts with taking a holistic view of the total cloud benefits and asking the right questions.

About the Author

Karen Dahut is an executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton where she leads the firm’s Strategic Innovation Group.

Reader Comments

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 GC

If you increase the above then that means they had issues before. Writer is being paid by someone wanting to provide cloud or cloud services

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