view from inside a plane of the wing and clouds
PHOTO: Andrew Neel

As the federal government moves from a cloud-first to a cloud smart strategy, the plan for developing private clouds and conducting cloud migrations within government agencies has begun to evolve. Cloud platforms enable organizations to save by reducing the spend on infrastructure while enabling seamless automation and scalability. However, in government agencies this advantage is further complicated by the fact that the mission needs of the government are unique. Significant foresight and planning are required for any cloud transition, but more so within government agencies, taking into consideration their exclusive requirements related to security, audit, organizational structure and a large portfolio of legacy applications.

The overall process from strategy to Authority to Operate (ATO) can be intimidating even to the most seasoned technical leadership, which is further complicated by perceptions of losing control, policies that are dated, a complicated bureaucracy and intricate security guidelines. Cloud migration and architecture initiatives need to be about far more than simply moving to a cloud platform — they need to be about optimizing processes for a completely digital world.

These implementation practices are key to efficient and successful migrations in any business, but especially within the federal space:

1. Create a Migration Strategy

Successful cloud migrations start by creating a clear and succinct strategy that outlines the migration priorities, establishes measures for the return on investment (ROI) and creates a vision that the organization can rally around. That is a key step in helping any organization create a successful cloud transformation journey. The strategy must also include a plan for assessment, implementation and deployment along with a roadmap for the migration.

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2. Set the Stage With a Cloud Management Office

One of the determinants of successful change management is close integration with transformation timelines, operations and impacts. A cloud management office provides a governance structure, integration and coordination across all initiatives, drives the strategic communications, marketing and branding initiatives, and cascades change interventions throughout the organization. It can also serve as a focal point for leadership to ensure transparency and accountability of initiatives and a driver for continued reinforcement of successes, collection of feedback and recognition of accomplishments.

3. Build an Atmosphere of Learning and Exploration

With any major technology transformation there is a need to create a culture of learning and exploration. This includes not only exploring new technology, but also creating a culture of exploration where people are encouraged to experiment with new technology and the creation of training roadmaps which identify individuals for retraining as needed. Cloud migrations are disrupters, but the disruption can be managed by creating a culture of inclusion.

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4. Embrace New Models for Delivery and Engineering

A cloud migration and operations team can't not operate as a traditional infrastructure delivery team. To deliver the desired transformation and be better equipped to keep pace with evolving cloud technology and capabilities, cloud teams need to adopt agile delivery practices within a DevOps approach. Some needs to consider while delivering in this mode are:

  • Have a better tool for tracking tasks, assignments and issues.
  • Implement a daily standup and scrum call involving the engineers.
  • Use virtual tools for daily sync-ups and combining sprint boards across multiple technology functions, with one lead scrum master having full visibility to the cloud delivery roadmap.
  • Employ Agile engineering teams that consistently roll out minimal viable products (MVPs).
  • Keep an open-minded approach to employing novel tools and processes.

5. Streamline Processes

The need to define the customer journey and intake process of the cloud migration — from the front door service catalog to the handover of the deployed application in the cloud, cannot be overemphasized. When performing multiple migrations, it's crucial to develop standard templates and customer journey experiences leading to a mature intake process developed with clarity and agility. While onboarding various applications, involve cloud architects, client stakeholders and business owners in defining a well thought out and streamlined blueprint for all cloud migrations.

Related Article: DevOps and the Culture of Inclusion

6. Continuous Engagement

The value of stakeholder engagement very early on in the migration process is critical. Involving the end customer very early in the migration lifecycle and keeping an open line of communication throughout the entire process with regular updates plays a vital role in most successful cloud migrations. Some key aspects of these engagements include:

  • Employing a customer success manager or product owner for every migration.
  • Holding technical exchange meetings to clarify requirements.
  • Maintaining a standard cadence for continuous collaboration.

Overall, federal project managers are overburdened and need a consistent, robust strategy to maintain a high level of customer service. It is important to consistently build trust through customer engagement.

7. Focus on Operations

As the migrations mature and more and more applications are migrated to the cloud, focus on improving and refining operational support models in the cloud. The core tenets of a cloud operations and maintenance (O&M) approach include transparency, continuous improvement and Agile delivery. They should also include:

  • Improved responsiveness and escalation process.
  • Greater clarity of action response aligned with documented severities and priorities.
  • Clearly defined change control process.
  • DevOps-based approach where the entire team works together in resolving any production issue.

Related Article: Federal Government Outlines Cloud Computing Strategy, Legacy Systems to Be Cut

8. Extreme Automation

The cloud environment opens the door to automation. Stating from Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), to Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Software (SaaS), the possibilities in cloud are limitless. To derive maximum benefit, it is important to automate processes end to end. Help clients develop and implement not just a continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD) pipeline, but also focus on true end-to-end automation using cloud formation templates to streamline environment creation and deployments, and introduce versioning and control of the templates themselves. Integration with systems and data increases portability and reduces the risk of errors through standardization. Not only that, but breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will help us further enhance these tasks to make them self-improving and efficient with use and time.

As we know, no two cloud migrations come off in quite the same way, given an organization’s unique setup, needs and budgets. But the general recipe for success always includes the same ingredients: thorough assessment and planning; effective knowledge transfer; and continuous communication with a keen focus on technological innovation.