Friday, January 20, 2012

IT Efficiency VS Pragmatism

My lovely (amazing, and supremely intelligent) wife sent me a link to an interesting IDC article about Government reducing costs through Cloud Architecture. Its your standard analysis article that mostly gives you the (oft dangerous) executive overview but this one sets us up for some good discussion about the shift in IT in the government sector.

I recommend giving it a read.

Scott Fulton gets a lot things right in his analysis. It is true we're seeing a massive shift in how governmental agencies approach their compute strategies. With budgets shrinking into oblivion most agencies are forced to put everything on the table as they plan out their future. Until recently most application vendors in the public sector required dedicated hardware for their software. Getting a new app meant getting more hardware since vendors would not support their software in a consolidated environment. This was probably compounded by the fact that many application vendors were also trying to push their own hardware as part of the contract.

Now that most app vendors are comfortable with virtualized environments new strategies are becoming possible. This is a very Good Thing (tm).

Intra-Agency cooperation isn't quite as rosy a picture as the author makes it out to be and maybe I can use Minnesota as an example.

Mr. Fulton really seems to like the possibility of smaller agencies taking advantage of larger agencies' compute investments. True, this has been advantageous for some counties and cities. The State of Minnesota has offered cloud services to local units of government for quite some time. The State has gone all in on cloud for its own services (email, Office 365, Sharepoint) so it is certainly eating its own dogfood. The reality is that the bigger agencies are often not a reliable partner.

The problem for local agencies is that politics on the State-level change as often as the wind direction. With a two-year budget cycle, power mongering, and constantly changing staff the State's local agency customer doesn't know what to expect, sometimes even on a month-to-month basis. Mostly due to politics, the State has a history of forcing changes in delivery methods down local-agency customers' throats.

My experience with local units of government is that they take a much longer view of things. Even IT purchases are looked at from a 5-10 year perspective. I suspect this is because elected officials are more easily accessed by their constituents and also have to live with their decisions in a more tangible way. Many of the organizations I know would recognize that a State-provided cloud service will save money from the start but then would immediately ask how this would affect them 5-10 years from now.

In Minnesota, at least, we have a pretty fantastic push toward better connectivity. The State, much to its credit, is working hard on bringing fiber-speed connections to most counties. The speed of these connections means that local level governments have some opportunities for collaboration amongst each other that they didn't have before.

In the end that's what it all comes down to: connectivity. Without that all the cloud computing in the world is useless.