By looking to optimize how cloud can create value across each of these categories, government organizations can be confident that they are getting more than just the fast workloads from cloud. They are getting the most mission value.
Optimizing for strategic outcomes
The main way for government organizations to create value for constituents is by achieving the strategic outcomes set forth in their missions. Cloud optimization efforts should therefore focus on agencies’ mission outcomes and business objectives. Cloud can allow human services agencies to process claims faster, health care agencies to use patient data to securely develop new treatments, and intelligence agencies to securely and rapidly share information to achieve their mission outcomes.
Not only can cloud optimization enable the mission by adding new applications and workflows, it can also help quantify mission impact by gathering data about mission performance for the first time. With this data, leaders can make decisions about how best to increase the effectiveness of services and improve user experience and internal operations.
For instance, one federal agency moved its recruiting and hiring application from infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) to enhance user experience, automation, and data integrity. The move to PaaS reduced system downtime, helped integrate the application with other hiring applications, cut manual intervention by 90%, and ultimately led to a reduction in time-to-hire.1 The move to cloud also helped the agency get better visibility into metrics for the first time. The agency could measure time taken to apply for a job, select candidates, conduct background investigations, and release an offer letter. Some of the traditional IT metrics such as fewer system failures, reduced downtime, and number of processes automated also provided a glimpse into the user experience for both hiring managers and candidates.
Optimizing for organization
Cloud becoming a mission-enablement tool also changes how it relates to the rest of the organization. Mission leaders need to be involved in decisions about cloud investments, and cloud leaders need to be involved in decisions about cloud-based mission tools. Shifting governance structures and organization cultures to allow for this level of collaboration can be difficult, but our research has shown that it is important to achieving success at scale.
There is a complex interaction between workforce and operations. When cloud shifts how agencies accomplish their mission as in the above examples, it can change how the workforce works and even who is in that workforce. Similarly, workforce shifts can significantly alter how an agency accomplishes its mission.
Take remote work as an example.
Over the past two years, cloud has enabled a seismic shift to remote work with nearly 50% of the US workforce now being mobile.2 Nor is this shift expected to slow down—analysts expect the cloud-based conferencing market to grow to over US$6.3 billion by 2024.3 This can increase cybersecurity requirements as employees will now be accessing data from a variety of locations and devices. Those new security requirements can, in turn, create the need for new workers with new skills.
Therefore, it is important to optimize an organization’s approach to cloud in a manner that moves leaders beyond IT-focused cloud migrations to a more comprehensive organizational model. In such a model, cloud is embedded in major decision-making and long-term workforce planning. An agency that is organized to effectively execute a cloud strategy and that has a robust learning and talent strategy to meet the needs of the future cloud workforce is important to optimizing cloud. Agencies can assess their organizational structure, define the required roles and skills for a future cloud workforce, and build the plan to get them there. Realignment of skills should go hand in hand with a culture that encourages collaboration and innovation. Cloud optimization is also an opportunity to embed innovation in an agency. The revamped cloud architecture should act as a foundation for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning that drive innovation and support mission outcomes.
These can be daunting changes, but for the agencies that get it right, optimizing the organization for cloud can bring significant benefits. For example, cloud-based HR systems can allow organizations to quickly rebalance tasks between employees in different geographies, making them more resilient in the face of natural disasters or other disruptions.4
Optimizing for FinOps
Government organizations are not only tasked with accomplishing a mission, but of doing so while being good stewards of taxpayers’ money. Optimizing mission value means optimizing financial performance. Too often, unused, overallocated, and wasted resources sit idle, driving unnecessary monthly cloud spend. Financial operations (FinOps) comprise the practice of bringing financial accountability to the variable-spend model of cloud. Agencies can assess the current cloud ecosystem, identify gaps and areas for improvement, and implement FinOps practices to optimize the value of cloud.
Cost savings is an integral part of FinOps, but it is not the only part. FinOps is fundamentally about improving mission performance as well as saving money. FinOps can help improve mission performance in three ways:
Create a common language. One of the major mission benefits of cloud is bringing together the data and operations of different parts of an organization to create efficiencies. But that can also create friction as cultures from different parts of an organization clash. FinOps can help create a common language with which different parts of an organization can identify, quantify, and compare mission value. By its very nature, FinOps requires making decisions about value. This can induce leaders to agree on common terms and definitions for mission value across the organization. Similarly, embedding FinOps teams in different parts of the organization can help build common terms and practices even while each component retains its unique and valuable culture.
Align on common success metrics. With a common language for mission value, organizations can begin to measure that value. The show-back and charge-back mechanisms of FinOps can help organizations define common key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics for mission value.5 Billing back internally to users of cloud services forces both the billing and billed part of the organization to quantify their efforts in terms of mission value to see if the investment is worth the money. These efforts can also help improve an organization’s efficiency as the more frequently internal billings arise, greater the pressure to automate internal processes. As cloud investments grow, manually processing internal invoices rapidly becomes unsustainable.
Overcome common barriers. FinOps can help identify and overcome common barriers to using cloud to the fullest. First, the continuous nature of FinOps can help organizations cope with the rapid rate of change and the frequency of decisions they face, such as lift and shift versus refactoring applications. Second, FinOps can help identify and address shadow IT—those IT systems deployed by business units without central IT visibility. FinOps can shine a light on all tech investments and determine if that need can be better met by other means. Finally, FinOps can also help drive modernization of procurement systems. The ever-changing nature of cloud usage can be particularly challenging for traditional government contracting. Several federal agencies have formed a working group to see how organizations can update their procurement policies to make the best use of cloud.6 While still in progress, recommendations include not setting an IT budget based on a single forecast at the beginning of the fiscal year since that precludes the very strength of cloud to grow or shrink dynamically to meet demand.
These three threads can come together to allow cloud to save money and improve mission effectiveness. For example, by shifting many of its HR systems to cloud, one federal agency was able to reduce the administrative effort needed to sort and store payroll data, improve processing times, and even host online employee-orientation sessions, providing deeply needed flexibility, especially during the pandemic.7
Optimizing for sustainability
Delivering value to citizens isn’t just about delivering services to create new value—it’s also about preserving value that already exists. Citizens are real people living in a real world. The value of a government agency goes beyond the services it provides and touches how an agency provides that service. Is it doing so equitably? Sustainably? Cloud can help government agencies answer those questions while maximizing the overall benefit to citizens.
For example, agencies can optimize the use of cloud to help reach their sustainability goals by reducing energy consumption and, in turn, carbon emissions. Cloud providers can scale operations to meet compute or storage demand more efficiently than an on-premise data center can. Combined with the efficiencies created by optimizing applications for the cloud, these efficiencies can lead to an immense reduction in electricity consumption compared to on-premise operations. In fact, research by Berkeley Lab and Northwestern University has found that cloud computing can reduce energy consumption by a staggering 87%.8
The scale of cloud providers also tends to allow them to invest more in greener technology than an individual organization with stand-alone data centers. For instance, many providers are supporting their server farms with renewable energy sources such as wind, nuclear, and solar plants. As a result, the technology supply chain of agencies can be far more sustainable. The scale of cloud providers also allows them to change what workloads run where to reduce the overall energy usage of the same amount of computation. Lower-power chips such as ARM (advanced RISC machines) processors may not be suitable for all workloads, but they can offer significant energy savings for simpler workloads.9 While an individual organization may not have enough simple workloads to warrant investing in such processors, cloud service providers are beginning to explore how they can aggregate such workloads across several IaaS customers and create significant energy savings as a result.
Government agencies can use procurement rules to ensure that vendors use sustainable energy sources and optimize processing power to reduce the carbon footprint of government computing. For example, the UK government’s ICT and digital services strategy requires that all its IT suppliers commit to become net-zero by 2025.10
This shift can not only save billions of dollars in energy costs, but also reduce carbon emissions by millions of metric tons.Many cloud providers are also using environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics to measure overall sustainability performance—in addition to power consumption—to determine what impact operations have on the environment.
Cloud optimization is a path, not a destination
Cloud optimization can sound like the answer to a math problem. Solve for X, and you have optimal cloud usage. But with cloud being more and more integral to how organizations achieve their missions, cloud optimization is a mindset, a way of doing business more than a particular outcome or correct answer.
To get started on that journey, government organizations should:
- Define metrics for mission effectiveness. Setting mission metrics and gathering appropriate data to measure them is often the first step toward finding new tools, new processes, and even entirely new services to improve mission accomplishment.
- Create a cross-functional council to oversee cloud investments. By bringing together IT and mission leaders, relationships can be formed which can lay the foundation for close collaboration on future projects.
- Monitor cloud usage and add those metrics to financial reports. Combining the technical and financial picture of cloud is an important first step toward FinOps. That way organizations can begin to manage finances on the same short timelines they manage technical decisions, rather than waiting for the end of the fiscal year.
- Bake climate, equity, and other considerations into business decisions. For example, creating climate impact criteria in cloud acquisition decisions could help uncover when a marginal improvement to a service may not be worth the significant increase in emissions it would cause.
Optimizing cloud should mean optimizing the mission value of an organization. The rapid change in the use of cloud means that government organizations have a unique opportunity to change how they deliver value to constituents. If done well, cloud optimization could lead to an operationally well-organized and financially sound organization that achieves its mission while adhering to sustainability standards.