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Federal cloud migration: Keys to success for program managers

Federal cloud migration: Keys to success for program managers
By Stephen Brody
Jul 26, 2022
Last Update: 08/21/2023

A full or partial cloud environment can help your agency boost efficiency, save capital, and promote innovation, all while ensuring mission-critical business goals are met.

Still, there’s no denying that cloud migration can be confusing and overwhelming. Data, security, expenses, and organizational training considerations can make implementation daunting for teams of all sizes. To clarify this process from end-to-end, here’s what you need to know about a successful federal cloud migration—and how to get started.

Pre-migration: Understanding current challenges

There are a number of challenges federal agencies face with respect to cloud migration. As organizations explore their options, it’s important to note the possible pain points such as:

  • Data: Federal agencies possess large amounts of data—and that data lives in a variety of silos with varied permission structures. When it comes to federal cloud migration, agencies must confront challenges associated with the scale, visibility, and duplication of data. During cloud migrations, business processes often change, which requires long-term planning to assess impact on data flows and models.
  • Security: In addition to the amount of data, stakeholders should also be mindful of citizens’ personal identifying information (PII) housed within it. Keeping this information secure through the migration process is paramount.
  • Expense: Cloud migration requires deliberate strategy to use compute and storage in ways that will decreate the cost. Without re-engineering, infrastructure costs can remain high. Stakeholders should note that cost concerns may include both migration as well as more long-term or ongoing cloud storage fees.
  • Training: A large-scale cloud migration will impact employees at scale. Leadership must be mindful of building buy-in from teams and following through with training that keeps employees updated with skills without impacting productivity.

The benefits of a federal cloud migration

While the pre-migration state for agencies may require program managers to take stock of the large scale of change ahead, it’s important to note that migration comes with a number of benefits that will ultimately make the transition worthwhile. This includes:

  • Citizen experience: Deliver faster, easier solutions to the public.
  • Hybrid environments: With a wide range of goals, agencies may use multiple infrastructures and environments for cloud computing, including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Successful migration may require hybrid integrations.
  • Cost savings: While initial concerns over price tags may loom, agencies can benefit from long-term cost savings with cloud migration. This holds true for cost points related to infrastructure updates, housing, management, and maintenance.
  • Enhanced security: Safeguard PII, prevent malware and phishing attacks, and modernize overall cybersecurity efforts.
  • Accelerate mission outcomes: Operate with improved speed and efficiency to deliver on mission-critical objectives.
  • Compliance: Cloud migration can help federal agencies maintain compliance with Executive Order 14028, Executive Order 14058, and other mandates requiring improvements to federal modernization and customer experience.

Keys to a successful federal cloud migration

The first step in a successful federal cloud migration is getting clear on your goals and objectives. It’s important to understand all aspects of your migration, including:

  • Which pain points you want to solve.
  • How it will support your current business goals.
  • How it will drive business value in the future.

This information will help you assess the services available—and how you can use them to achieve your goals.

Additionally, all departments must be on the same page about cloud migrations for them to work successfully. Each department needs to understand how it can support the rest of the organization during the transition and beyond.

One way organizations can prepare themselves is to have a plan for the most important aspects of the migration. For example, IT may need to create a security plan, while the organizational change management team establishes new rules for accessing and sharing assets. This will help inspire a more committed workforce, which ensures that new platforms are adopted seamlessly.

How to get started

To get started with federal cloud migration, take a full view of the entire situation. Consider:

  • What assets need to be moved to the cloud and why.
  • What it will cost in the short term and long term.
  • The greatest business benefits of the change.
  • How long the migration will take.
  • Which changes will deliver the most value.
  • Which aspects of the transition can be automated. 

Migration pitfalls to understand and avoid

Federal cloud migration is a significant undertaking that offers a bounty of potential. Still, it’s important to approach the decision intentionally and strategically—all while communicating changes clearly and often.

Short-term cost cuts over intentional, value-based change

Federal cloud migration proposals can come with significant up-front costs, leading many companies to prioritize cost-efficiency over functionality. Yet it’s a huge mistake to rush through a cloud migration in the service of short-term savings. A quick “lift and shift” approach of manually transporting data and documents from a legacy system to the cloud can severely inhibit your ability to use the cloud to its fullest capacity—and will most certainly cause additional issues down the line.

Instead, agencies should work to gain a holistic understanding of the price. When you understand all of the features offered—and how they’ll help you achieve core business goals—the value will be much clearer. It will also help you transition step-by-step, with intention, to ensure that each stage of the migration is completed properly.

Last-minute change management and employee onboarding

A common pitfall is not explaining to employees and stakeholders what software is needed and why. Employees who don’t understand the transition or how it can help are often apprehensive. In turn, they may not use the software properly or completely—making it harder to realize its full potential.

New platform adoption requires full buy-in from everyone who’ll use it. Agencies must build a business case and communicate its value to everyone at the organization. Getting all users involved early and often in the migration process will give your people a greater sense of ownership and enable smoother adoption.

Implementation without automation

While you may be eager to ignite change, there are likely elements of your migration that can be automated. It’s also essential to stay open and flexible to the potential of what your new environment can look like. Investing early in automation capabilities such as Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), software migration factories with continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD), and self-service marketplaces will save you significant time in the long run, and you’ll create room for more cost savings and innovation.

Underestimating security

In the era of the dissolving perimeter, the rapidly changing security landscape is becoming more difficult to navigate. What is an Authority-to-Operate (ATO) and do you need one? What is Zero Trust and how might it affect my cloud now and in the future? Traditional security solutions are no longer adequate and it’s critically important for agencies to understand what level of security is needed at the start and how to plan for its evolution in the future.

Determining the right solution

There are three main services available for agencies transitioning to the cloud: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

When weighing your options, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the tradeoffs between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Both IaaS and PaaS require more customization than SaaS, yet IaaS is considered the first step up from a traditional data center. IaaS tools manage service, storage, and networks, but you’ll oversee the application used, as well as your data and run time. This may be better for agencies that want a more hands-on approach to asset and data management.

In contrast, PaaS tools provide less direct control but are more flexible and user-friendly. They manage everything that an IaaS service manages, including run time, meaning they’ll help oversee and repair outages. This middle-of-the-road option is best for agencies that want personalization and flexibility but prefer the peace of mind that comes from having someone oversee outages.

Lastly, SaaS tools are the easiest to implement because the software vendor manages everything: application, data, run time, servers, storage, and network. SaaS tools are existing services that can be subscribed to easily.

Decoding cloud migration

Migrating hybrid environments

Many agencies also opt for a hybrid environment. For example, we worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its migration project. The FCC chose Amazon Web Services as its primary SaaS provider, but also sought a customized, hybrid model. We supported FCC’s core business goals by helping the agency strategically transition to a custom combination of both SaaS and PaaS services.

With a range of needs and goals across business areas—including its licensing and tracking systems—the FCC’s modernization journey required a consultant with expertise in hybrid models.

Low-code/no-code platforms offer organizations a hybrid strategy that enables fast, reliable modernization of existing systems and workflows while directly integrating with cloud service providers.

As the 2022 ServiceNow U.S. Federal Partner of the Year, we’ve helped agencies including the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) accelerate their digital modernization efforts through hybrid low-code integrations with their cloud environments.

Choose partners with proven experience

It’s important to choose the right partners for cloud migration, but it isn’t always easy. You’ll need to find partners that can complement and enhance your current capabilities. The best way to choose a trustworthy agency is to find someone with proven experience delivering not only on standard migrations, but on challenging projects, too.

Take, for example, a monumental migration project we completed for the Office of Facilities Management (OFM). This agency, overseen by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), belongs to the Public Buildings Service (PBS), which strategizes, leases, and maintains public properties. The GSA needed to standardize maintenance across 11 OFM operations regions, many of which relied on a mix of manual and digital communications.

The massive scale of this project—over a million assets and 10 million work orders—required an expert. Our team not only helped achieve this solution by developing and deploying the National Computer Maintenance Management System (NCMMS); they did so in a record time of just four months. The keys to success outlined above—defining pain points and business goals—were instrumental in driving project success. We continue to support PBS in its goals of creating valuable, sustainable, community-driven spaces and have saved the agency $2 million annually.

Cloud migration is a significant undertaking. But you can earn the most possible ROI from this transformation by asking the right questions, creating a strategy, and working with experienced partners.

Meet the author
  1. Stephen Brody, Solutions Architect

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