For agencies with a healthcare-focused mission, like the Department of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and the Defense Health Agency, the pandemic presented more than just the typical challenges faced by most agencies. Not only did they have to ramp up telework to keep agency workers safe, but they also had to deploy telehealth solutions to keep delivering on the mission to vulnerable populations.
While this was a monumental task, agencies that were cloud-ready were able to respond to the challenge. For example, as the pandemic hit, the Department of Veterans Affairs was able to quadruple its telework capacity and increase its telehealth appointments by 10x. What made this possible was existing infrastructure and investments shared agency CTO, Charles Worthington in a recent ACT_IAC webinar. “We’re really lucky that we were building from an infrastructure that already existed and were trying to quickly ramp it up and improve it, as opposed to trying new things.”
To understand more about how the cloud is fundamental to agency agility and the ability to successfully deliver on the mission throughout the many ups and downs of the pandemic, we wanted to share insights that experts from Infor and Amazon Web Services shared with our colleagues on Government Technology Insider.
Read on to find out what they had to say:
The pandemic has pushed the public sector to break out of its comfort zone of legacy systems and on-prem IT infrastructures and into the cloud. Even though many agencies were well on their way to cloud-powered work-spaces before COVID the rapid switch to remote work highlighted gaps in how agencies support and maintain productivity.
To unpack the shifting attitudes and best practices around cloud adoption in the public sector, Government Technology Insider reached out to Sandy Carter, Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector Partners and Programs at AWS, and Joe Arthur, Vice President, Regulated Industries SaaS at Infor. Carter and Arthur offer their take on how the perception of the cloud is evolving among government agencies and how key technology partners help mitigate long-standing issues around digital transformation in the cloud.
Shifting Attitudes in the Public Sector Amidst Mass Migration to the Cloud
As entire workforces transitioned to remote work in response to the pandemic, the vast capabilities powered by the cloud became more apparent to those that may not have fully embraced it yet. With a bright light now shining on these capabilities, returning to how business was done before COVID-19 hit is not a realistic approach according to Arthur and Carter.
“I think it still remains to be seen how the public sector will view the cloud over the long term, but witnessing the speed of migration, having hands-on experience with the tools, and seeing more than a ‘proof of concept’ could make a meaningful difference,” stated Carter. “A common response we’ve heard from AWS customers is surprise over how quickly we can help them migrate services and functions at scale. In many cases, what some public sector customers would project as a 12-18-month migration happened within the span of a few days. I think the changes organizations have made in response to the pandemic can fuel permanent changes in the way the public sector uses the cloud to serve communities.”
Arthur built on this sentiment by parsing out the three different types of responses to this rapid transition to remote work: those who already transitioned to the cloud, those in the process of transitioning to the cloud, and those that had not yet begun the cloud migration process. “For those who already embraced a cloud infrastructure, they’ve openly demonstrated their ability to quickly adapt and accommodate a remote workforce. For those in the process, we as providers learned how to build a resilient implementation team entirely remotely, thanks in large part to the robust capabilities of AWS. And for those not yet in the cloud, a lot of time, resources, and budget were spent trying to implement a cloud infrastructure after the fact.”
Power in Partnership
Let’s say you’re one of those agencies that has yet to fully transition to the cloud, or even consider cloud adoption until the pandemic hit. How do you tackle such a feat in a time-efficient, budget-friendly, and sustainable way? Strategic partnerships like those between Infor and AWS mitigate some of those challenges that government agencies are all too familiar with.
“Our customers are often challenged by not having in-house resources to migrate quickly and cost effectively to the cloud with the lowest impact to the organization,” Carter explained. “Organizations usually also need to show a quick return-on-investment (ROI) once they have made the decision to move to AWS. Infor manages the entire migration of their SaaS solutions built on AWS and then continues to manage the solution for the customer after migration. Taking a ‘SaaS First’ migration approach moves our customers more quickly to AWS and enables them to deliver a faster ROI.”
Cost efficiency is a large part of ensuring that ROI. Arthur explained to us that between the education process and the amount of time and resources needed to stand up a self-sustained cloud environment, it doesn’t make sense for government agencies with ever-shrinking budgets to tackle that alone. “By passing that effort to us, these agencies can devote more of their time, team, and budget towards accomplishing their actual mission and serving the public.”
Where are Government Agencies Struggling?
The behemoth that is legacy systems that aren’t exactly cloud-friendly remains one of the top challenges among government agencies in their journey to the cloud, according to Arthur and Carter.
“These systems have become so tailored and customized over the years,” said Arthur, “that migrating something so specific to the cloud can be seen as near impossible. And employee reliance on these tailored systems begets pushback from staffers not interested in learning an entirely new system for the sake of embracing the cloud.”
“Many customers and partners also don’t have the resources necessary to train and maintain in-house staff on AWS technologies,” added Carter. “Instead, they are able to rely on our independent software vendor (ISV) partners, like Infor, to bring out-of-the box, cloud-enabled SaaS solutions that don’t require them to develop deep AWS expertise.” Carter also explained that Infor alleviates the challenge of massive data migration by working with thousands of Microsoft SQL databases to move petabytes of data for these customers into the AWS cloud.
Adapting to the “New Normal” and Thriving
“Keeping public sector organizations operational and productive in a shelter-in-place environment is a powerful proof point for cloud adoption, but it is just the tip of the iceberg,” Carter stated. “Organizations are now looking at leveraging the cloud for machine learning and artificial intelligence insights that can drive innovation.”
“COVID-19 made clear that people expect the same world-class technology from government and other public sector organizations that they expect when they log onto Netflix or shop online,” she continued. “And the pandemic made clear that sometimes that is the only interface organizations will have with their customers, so failure is not an option. Public sector organizations are increasingly turning to the cloud to expand their capacity, thereby allowing their workforce to remain focused on critical mission priorities and build solutions for what is next.”
Agencies are seeing the benefits from an internal operations perspective as well, according to Arthur, particularly when it comes to collaboration. “The reality is that there has been an ongoing shift towards a transient workforce for years now. Over time, it’s become obvious that employees can, in fact, be very productive remotely. This pandemic has launched a new paradigm for us in making that shift and engaging with team members in new, equally productive ways.”
The Future of Cloud Adoption
As far as Carter and Arthur are concerned, there is no going back for the public sector with regards to its cloud approach. Carter noted the shift among government agencies towards an “All-In” SaaS approach and the importance of private sector partners in that transformation. “Taking a SaaS-First approach can help customers quickly migrate while also allowing for cost savings. Once customers see the benefits of their first SaaS migration, they generally want other SaaS solutions on the same AWS platform in order to simply integrations.”
Carter also touched on the importance of elements like compliance expertise among SaaS vendors and the application of voice technology in telemedicine as developments to watch as the public sector’s relationship with the cloud continues to blossom.
Arthur concluded that “COVID set in motion the realization that cloud is here and should be embraced. Public sector entities need to keep this mind for future budgets and modernizations.”