National cloud approach #3: just buy it

07 August 2013 | Dan Mannion, Director, Public Sector Cloud Strategy

Today, I’ll wrap up the series I started in May concerning Three Approaches to National Cloud Strategy. Today’s topic: buying cloud services using a Government Procurement Framework. As with the other two approaches I’ve discussed—Government-Sponsored National Clouds and Governments as Service Provider—I’ll cover what it is, why governments choose it, and how they implement it. Hopefully this series will provide a foundation that informs your own cloud journey.

What it is

A Government Procurement Framework allows governments to purchase and deploy a cloud solution quickly. Governments that use this approach are mainly in large, developed markets. They create a cloud procurement framework in which they precertify a large number of cloud vendors, enabling their IT directors and agency CIOs to purchase services fast—without going to public tender. Less than 10 percent of national governments use this approach.

Why choose it 

There are two reasons that large governments go down this path:

FASTER COST SAVINGS. By streamlining the procurement process for its agencies, these governments can speed up public cloud services adoption. This helps them accelerate the shift from capital expenses (building and maintaining data centers) to operational expenses (paying only for the computing they need)—so they can reap the cost savings sooner. See how the Mexican internal revenue service deployed its solution—and started cutting costs—in just four months.

STRATEGIC PRIORITIES. Getting a cloud deployed quickly frees up money, technology, and time for strategic initiatives. Many governments are still running mainframes and using old server technologies that date back to the 20th century. This infrastructure is incredibly expensive to maintain and restricts the ability to innovate.

How to implement it

To create a national cloud in this way, governments must have several things in place:

1. CENTRAL PROCUREMENT AGENCY. Because these are large governments, they’ve likely centralized their procurement agency already. What’s left is to define the cloud services they need, create the certification framework; and develop, deploy, and maintain the certified vendor list that their agencies can then use for procurement.

2. DATA PRIVACY RULES. For this approach to work, governments must also have well-established data privacy and security levels that they can certify cloud services against.

3. VENDOR STANDARDS. Well-established standards should be in place so governments can hold their cloud vendors accountable for SLAs, physical security, data access, data location, and so on.

4. PROCUREMENT MANDATE. Governments also must require that their agencies move to cloud services. If they don’t make the move, the scale that makes cloud computing impactful will never be reached.

The bad news: This approach rarely works because governments often lack a procurement mandate. The U.S. retired its program in 2012 after three years—despite having a framework to speed up procurement—because individual IT departments were still performing their own due diligence. The federal government never achieved the end game because the departments went through two cycles—one based on the framework and another based on their own criteria, so the process actually took longer.

There’s no single answer here. Every government and every IT infrastructure is unique. The key is to start with the problems you want to solve, and do a full assessment of the data, infrastructure, and skillsets you have in place today. This leads to dynamic IT environments where self-service is possible and workloads are based in the public or private cloud, or both, as your requirements warrant.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.


Dan Mannion
Director, Public Sector Cloud Strategy