Federal agencies are running a marathon in their drive toward digital transformation. The race to transform and better meet mission and constituent needs is not a sprint, but rather a set of hurdles that agencies must overcome to achieve new levels of mission success.
In our 2021 Voice of Our Clients survey, 14% of U.S. Federal government leaders indicated that they plan to modernize 80% or more of their application portfolio. 21% plan to migrate 80% or more of their systems to the cloud.
Across the federal landscape, nearly every agency has adopted some level of cloud computing, from cloud-based email and collaboration to lift-and-shift moves, re-platforming applications to Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions to migrating public-facing websites to the cloud. With the increased focus on cloud as a means to support agency modernization and digital transformation, leaders are seeking insight into how to effectively scale their cloud approaches. Most agencies have tripped over at least one hurdle as they’ve run this race. Those skinned knees and bruised elbows become lessons learned for the future.
At CGI, we’ve helped agencies move hundreds and thousands of small to complex workloads to the cloud. The success of a cloud transformation—and the ability of an agency to optimize its cloud investments at scale—depends on multiple factors. Lacking focus on these factors, agencies may fail to achieve their hybrid IT/cloud objectives at scale.
Based on our experience, we can offer the following insights into best practices that help agencies clear common hurdles to cloud transformation success:
1. Develop your roadmap. Every hurdler develops a strategy to win the race. But what if your strategy fails to achieve the desired outcomes? Consider the Olympic long-hurdler (a 400-meter race), who sets specific objectives for key milestones along the race distance. Failure to meet a milestone results in an adjustment to speed or stride.
Like the hurdler, cloud transformation leaders need a roadmap for operationalizing the cloud strategy. Regardless of the roadmap’s timeframe, it must include milestones that the organization is working toward. We recommend organizations translate their strategies into concrete actions and plans along the roadmap, including how success will be measured and communicated to the organization.
So, how do organizations establish a cloud transformation roadmap? Stakeholder engagement is key. As part of our 2021 CGI Voice of Our Clients, we conducted one-on-one interviews with nearly 1,700 executives from across the industries and geographies we serve, including 282 in central or federal government. Only 20 percent of the executives we spoke with indicated that their transformation strategies produce results. In analyzing the traits of these successful digital leaders, we identified multiple attributes related to stakeholder engagement, including increased efficiency in collaboration and better ability to align with business priorities.
IT alone cannot develop the cloud transformation roadmap—its creation and continuous evolution must be a coordinated effort across key stakeholders, including the lines of business. The roadmap directly aligns to the strategy, and iteratively adjusts to new priorities while bearing in mind current realities (e.g., level of technical debt within legacy systems).
2. Determine your governance model. Cloud democratizes access to resources. Cloud governance defines, establishes and monitors the rules that support the implementation of the agency-wide cloud strategy. Effective governance recognizes that the cloud adoption journey is more like a relay race, not an individual competition.
As cloud adoption increases, agencies must determine their philosophy for cloud governance. At CGI Federal, as we have increased our own utilization of cloud internally and across the federal programs we support, we recognized the advantages of moving to a centralized cloud broker model. Our internal cloud broker office manages key elements of the cloud ecosystem, including account-set-up, invoicing, licensing (through service catalogs), standard configurations and enterprise-level monitoring. This approach has helped us closely monitor and control spend, security and compliance.
In our experience, agencies are moving from prior decentralized models (wherein individual programs and business lines migrated and managed cloud workloads independently) to a more hybrid governance approach. For example, CGI supports a large civilian agency that established a centralized organization and contract for its cloud program, including the creation of enterprise-wide service catalogs, a single mechanism for account set-up, and centralized cloud billing—achieving measurable cost savings and improvements in overall compliance. Departments, programs and mission areas maintain autonomy over cloud architectures (within enterprise and federal standards) and establish their own DevSecOps pipelines. A smaller agency may adopt a governance model that centralizes some of these elements. Governance may change over time, as automation enables policy to be implemented systematically from the cloud.
Obviously, from a governance perspective, one size does not fit all. Much like the relay team must adapt to the evolving skills, strengths and weaknesses of each team member, the cloud governance model must recognize the resources, capabilities and evolving maturity of each organizational component.
3. Move with purpose. Fortunately, agencies are moving from “lift and shift” to a more thoughtful approach to transformation. With competing priorities, budgetary constraints and often siloed organizational models, though, assessment of target state is often done on an application-by-application basis. But such a view is incomplete – looking only at the immediate hurdle in front of you instead of the entire race.
We encourage agencies to increase assessment focus beyond applications to portfolios to drive to a target state that meets broad agency requirements. CGI has adopted Gartner’s 6Rs model for cloud transformation: Refactor, Rehost, Replace, Replatform, Retire, Retain.
Assessment must consider not only technical components but also business and organizational needs, as well as security and compliance. The selected target state inherently impacts the migration effort, potential benefits to end users and constituents, costs and return on investment within the new operating model. Conducting an assessment also positions organizational leaders to clearly articulate to stakeholders, including end users, the value associated with moving to the new target state.
Choosing the right transformation approach requires another element of moving with purpose: piloting solutions. An assessment should include some element of proof of concept for the to-be architecture, testing out assumptions and validating constraints. When CGI migrated the first of our Momentum® federal enterprise resource planning (ERP) clients to a commercial cloud service provider, we spun up a small, low-cost environment to pilot our target state. Our Momentum baseline product team conducted testing of functionality and performance within the cloud target and provided feedback that enabled us to optimize the architecture in the target production cloud and migrate with confidence.
4. Invest in your people. Any target state is only as good as the agency’s ability to leverage it. When undergoing a cloud transformation, organizations tend to use a variety of tools – from cloud readiness to migration to DevSecOps tools. Agency IT leaders must consider first whether they have the necessary know-how to introduce and optimize these tools, and to do so cost-effectively. Given the sheer speed of new tool introduction within the market, agencies must continually invest in training for their employees on the latest technologies and best practices.
The transition to a cloud-focused or hybrid IT organization can bring challenges for resources and leadership—even those with decades of experience working in a traditional data center paradigm. This proves true not only for IT operations staff, but also for business and mission-focused resources who are used to a given way of managing an IT project or maintaining their systems.
Business and engineering groups alike require training in both cloud technologies and new agile ways of working. Cloud transformation cannot be treated as an IT-only effort. The team is only as strong as its weakest hurdler.
The hurdles associated with cloud transformation can seem daunting for an organization: bars are high to eclipse, and failing to jump over a hurdle can be painful. Applying these four recommendations, though, agency leaders can position their teams for success.
Learn more about CGI Federal’s approach to optimizing the federal cloud and hybrid IT environment. Reach out to our experts to help coach your team over those hurdles. Click the bios below for contact information. Or read more about our cloud and hybrid IT expertise on our website.