By Erich Clementi
The U.S. Department of Interior is embarking on a multi-year process of shifting its traditional information technology systems to a cloud computing-based delivery model. The agency’s 16 bureaus and offices, which manage assets ranging from national parks and monuments to wildlife refuges, dams and reservoirs, spend in excess of $1 billion a year on IT—but have promised to save $100 million per year from 2016 to 2021 via the shift to the cloud.
The financial impact of the move will be substantial, but, in addition, the Interior department is putting in place a long-term strategy aimed at using the cloud to help transform the way it operates—making it more nimble, innovative and responsive to the needs of its constituents. It plans on using the savings it reaps from the shift to fund investments in new capabilities.
Anne Altman, GM of IBM’s Federal business, talks about the new cloud innovation center in Washington, D.C.
That approach places the agency among the vanguard organizations within government and industry that understand that there’s a lot more to cloud than initially meets the eye. They recognize the potential for what we at IBM call the ‘high-value’ cloud.
The high-value cloud, in contrast to today’s commodity-type cloud services, does not require organizations to compromise on control, performance, automation or open standards. A high-value cloud has the potential to provide a computing infrastructure that is flexible enough to permit lightning-quick responses to changes in the business or governing environment, that is customizable so it precisely fits the needs of each organization, and that in time will be secure and reliable enough for nearly any use. The high-value cloud is based on open technology standards, so customers are not locked into one cloud service provider.
This open and interoperable computing fabric will be the foundation for enabling organizations to take full advantage of the capabilities presented by technology advances in mobility, Big Data analytics, social networking and the just-now emerging cognitive capabilities heralded by IBM’s Watson. For companies and government agencies that embrace it, this infrastructure delivery model can be the key to achieving optimum performance in this high-pressure world.
These benefits, of course, come on top of the well-known advantages of cloud computing: It enables organizations to avoid capital expenses and the complex demands of managing their own IT systems. It allows them to take advantage of the efficiencies of the shared computing resources. And it enables them to get new applications up and running quickly.
Today, the world is in the early days of broad-based cloud adoption. Most large organizations and many small ones use cloud services for a handful of purposes like for developing and testing new software applications or managing customer relationships and marketing campaigns. Yet we believe that the organizations that commit to shifting their core activities to a hybrid cloud delivery model now—the way the Interior department has done–will be the leaders of their industries tomorrow.
This is a monumental shift in IT – with tremendous benefits – so organizations should consider all the possible options and implications to their IT decisions. We believe that organizations will be best served by understanding the capabilities that will be available in the future, positioning themselves to take full advantage of them, and adopting enterprise-wide strategies and policies that will enable a smooth transition to the high-value cloud.
Here are some guiding principles:
• Be strategic. Do not choose cloud services just based on an immediate need. Make sure they fit into your long-term plans.
• Security is paramount. Pick services where security is built in from the ground up—not added on as an afterthought.
• Choose services that are based on open technology standards. That way, as your organization and needs evolve, your cloud services can grow with you.
• Avoid lock-in. Steer clear of cloud service providers that make it difficult for you to move to another provider.
• Do not settle for one-size-fits-all computing: Today’s commodity-like cloud services offer few options. High-value services make it possible for customers to tailor solutions for their particular needs.
We are at a turning point in the evolution of cloud computing. While the cloud is still in the early stages of adoption, hybrid models already offer efficiencies, flexibility and ease of use that are superior in many ways to traditional computing. Yet it is clear that a higher-value cloud is emerging. As time passes, cloud services will be capable of taking on an ever-wider array of tasks and of delivering more profound benefits for businesses, government, the economy and society. Now things get really interesting.