Data Management is the New Value Proposition for Cloud

Published: October 08, 2014

Cloud ComputingCybersecurityInnovation

Over the last year at least a dozen federal agency Inspectors General have released reports showing severe deficiencies in agency data management policies and processes. These findings have come in reports assessing the use of commercial cloud solutions and in agency Federal Information Security Management Act compliance. Properly managing data is the responsibility of both agency customers and industry partners providing cloud services. Industry partners can potentially derive big competitive gains by offering enhanced data management features in their solutions that provide increased transparency and auditability to federal customers.

Scanning the news on a daily basis one will encounter any number of articles, blog posts, and commentaries on cloud computing.  These typically focus on the benefits or challenges of cloud adoption by U.S. federal government agencies.  No matter the publication the issues raised are always the same.  Agencies can derive all kinds of benefits from using commercial cloud solutions.  They can reduce costs, expand scalability, remain current with the latest technology, etc.

This is all well and good and agencies have adopted cloud solutions to derive many of these benefits.  The federal cloud “market,” however, is often characterized by dynamics that infrequently appear in commercial settings.  Unlike companies that are looking to harness technology for cost and efficiency benefits, agencies tend to be more risk averse.  There is also the labyrinth of rules, regulations, and security concerns governing the federal marketplace that do not affect commercial settings.

Markets also change over time and the federal IT market is no exception.  For example, lately I’ve realized that there have been significant developments in relation to cloud and this change doesn’t appear to be on many people’s radar – at least insofar as the trade press is concerned.  The change centers on the issue of data management and governance.  Over the last year multiple reports have come out of agency Inspector General offices pointing to the fact that agencies have not implemented the data management/governance processes/policies necessary to securely use commercial clouds.

Data management has plenty to do with industry because being good stewards of government data (our citizen data!) is as much a responsibility of industry partners as it is of the agencies responsible for collecting it.  More important still from a business development perspective is the fact that agencies are failing in their efforts to develop adequate data management policies and processes.  This leaves industry partners to fill the gap and, if they play their cards right, offer enhanced data management as a benefit to buying their cloud solution over a competitor’s solution.

Cloud services are quickly becoming “commoditized,” for lack of a better term.  With every cloud solicitation that appears, agencies are receiving a higher number of bids.  This means simply being able to offer a cloud solution is not a competitive differentiator any longer.  Rather, it is the features of the proposed solution and ease of use that can make the difference between winning and losing the contract.  In this context the more data management features vendors can offer in their solutions, the more success they will have in this marketplace.  These features should include providing agency access to the vendor system, operational transparency, simple auditability, and data portability features.  The more dashboards provided the better!

Agency IT shops are being forced by the growing threat of cyber-attacks and by increasing OIG/Congressional oversight to better protect their data.  In the first instance this means buying solutions that are FedRAMP compliant.  I would argue, however, that enabling the agency customer to see, access, and account for his or her data is every bit as critical a differentiating factor when it comes to selling your solution.  Data management is becoming a very big concern for federal customers.  Proactively address that concern and you will be well ahead of your competition.