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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

The danger of believing in silver bullets

Whether it is losing weight, getting rich or managing government IT, it seems we can’t resist the lure of a silver bullet. The magic pill. The easy answer.

Ten or 12 years ago, I remember a lot of talk about leasing and reverse auctions, and how they were going to transform everything.

Since then, outsourcing and insourcing have risen and fallen from favor. Performance-based contracting was going to be the solution to everything. And what about the huge systems integration projects like Deepwater?

They start with a bang and end with a whimper, or in some cases, a moan and a whine. And of course, along the way, millions and even billions of dollars get wasted.

I think we are in the midst of another silver bullet phenomenon with all the talk around cloud computing and everything as a service.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that these technologies and methodologies are powerful and will change how government agencies operate and how government contractors serve their customers. They are good ideas.

But there are dangers, and the biggest one is the perception by many that this is easy, or is a path for government agencies to abdicate responsibility. That just moving to the cloud is going to solve an agency’s problems.

This really came home for me when I read one General Services Administration official's comments in an FCW story about how GSA is looking to buy everything-as-a-service.

This is what he said: GSA wants to use the cloud model “where you pay by the sip, and then you’re done with it and the relationship is over.”

That last part “and the relationship is over” is what stopped me.

Is it really in the government’s best interest to spend tons of money with someone, and then declare the relationship over?

Cloud computing and everything-as-a-service are new and exciting and very promising, but the government seems to want to just shift responsibility and risk to the contractors. The attitude seems to be “managing and running our IT is hard and expensive, so let me pay a set rate and I can wash my hands of it.”

It’s the government’s newest silver bullet. And frankly, I think a lot of contractors and vendors are trying to sell it that way because they know many customers like to hear easy answers.

But it’s a horrible approach to managing IT.

In fact, the opposite should be true. The cloud and everything-as-a-service should open up the relationship, not close it.

Many of the problems in government aren’t problems with technology, but problems with processes and resources. Cloud computing and everything-as-a-service aren’t going to fix those problems. But they should foster more dialogue between government and industry on how to solve those problems.

They are tools for improving IT governance, not a silver bullet. Like werewolves, the silver bullet is just a myth.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 31, 2012 at 9:52 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 Kathy

Thanks, Nick. You've expressed what a lot of us have been thinking ... in- or outsourcing, cloud computing, big data and now everything as a service! There really are no easy buttons to push or silver bullets to shoot to fix anything and everything in government. As you indicated, it is about relationships and collaborating to find the best solutions that we can afford. It's not about throwing money at something to fix it ... particularly when you don't have the funding to support easy answers given the big trouble we're all in budget-wise. Thanks for being a wise spokesperson for the industry.

Wed, Aug 1, 2012 bill

VERY well written Nick. I had a government person just yesterday tell me they were prepared to spend millions to provide their service in the cloud. It is a service that actually works fine today. No one is complaining about how well it works, yet he wants to fix it by moving to the cloud? I think there will be many unseen challenges for this particular service, which is mainly classified. It might make his USG job easier, but the benefits to contractors will be minimal so why spend?

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