Evaluating the Progress of the Federal ‘Cloud-First’ Initiative

Back in 2011, former president Obama challenged congress and the executive branch to undertake a rapid IT modernization initiative. Being decades behind the private sector, the best way to facilitate this move and vast upgrade of IT infrastructure was by prioritizing cloud-based initiatives. This is what eventually became known as the ‘cloud first’ initiative, a major proponent of FITARA.

Seven years later a lot of progress has been made by federal agencies, but a lot more progress still needs to be made. Unfortunately, obstacles to wide scale cloud adoption remain, with security being the cardinal risk.

With the rise cyber security risks worldwide, agencies who work with sensitive data remain reluctant to embrace the cloud. A Gallup poll found that 27% of respondents reported having their credit card information stolen at least once from a business’s data servers.

The future of federal cloud adoption lies in changing attitudes and overcoming obstacles to adoption. While the cloud does present some vulnerabilities, there are many reasons federal agencies should adopt the cloud.

Advantages of the Cloud

From a data perspective, the cloud was the impetus that helped many startups scale, such as Uber and Netflix. With seemingly unlimited resources, the cloud is the ideal data storage of agencies who are likely to experience a tremendous growth in data requirements or whose demand fluctuates widely.

The cloud is much cheaper to maintain and upgrade then hosting your own data server in-house. The cloud also easily integrates with existing legacy software and provides access to many support applications, such as Salesforce.

Primarily though, the cloud provides emergency backup for sensitive and crucial agency data. Now, the cloud is generally safe, although hackers will always find ways to corrupt data and trick proprietary algorithms. With machine learning technology, many companies are identifying new ways to thwart attacks and make public data even safer.

Slow to Adopt

Unfortunately, the ‘cloud first’ initiative still languishes. According to a congressional report, the government still actively uses 10,000 of its own data storage centers. Worse yet, CIOs recognize the importance of the cloud, but are slow to adapt. A Government Business Council survey found that 19% of respondents had actually “extensively used applications developed for the cloud.”

Now, migrating to the cloud does not make sense for every organization. Beyond this, the federal government has less flexibility and more oversight that prevent it from moving to the cloud freely. To better understand this phenomenon, it’s best to analyze barriers to adoption that are slowing down progress.

Obstacles to Adoption

One of the biggest obstacles to adoption remains money, or limited resources. With limited capital and staff, some agencies are simply unable to bare the short-term costs associated with such a massive transition.

Furthermore, transitioning to the cloud comes with uncertainty. Security is an obvious concern, but other questions remain, such as assigning new roles for staff and how will the architecture of primary software applications change? Will people be laid off or will we have to train staff on new applications? There exists a much larger talent discrepancy in the public sector than the private sector and it continues to grow.

For organizations like the Department of Defense, their primary concerns remain security and offloading sensitive data on private servers. Aside from this, the sheer volume of data that an organization like this would need to transfer to the cloud would be long and costly.


Until these issues can be resolved, adoption of the cloud will remain in limbo. Fortunately, many agencies are starting to recognize the importance of the cloud and the transition is expected to accelerate in the next few years. Unfortunately, agencies’ refusal to navigate to the cloud is not innocuous and could present far reaching consequences for the public at large.