Pandemic fuels cloud demand, shift to apps

The remote work challenges under the COVID-19 pandemic mean that once "nice-to-have" technologies are now mission critical, leaders said.

The remote work challenges under the COVID-19 pandemic mean that technologies once considered optional are now mission critical and trends that were already in motion are driving forward.

John Hale, chief of cloud services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said that over the past 18 months, the shift to cloud has been accelerating and demands related to COVID are pushing things even faster.

"We shifted to online teleconferencing faster than anticipated, using commercial virtual remote applications," said Hale at a virtual event hosted by GovExec. "That shifted the demand signal" at the agency. "What used to be 'nice-to-have,' is now ingrained as mission critical."

At the same event, Vijay D'Souza, director of information technology and cybersecurity at the Government Accountability Office, said that GAO noted last fall a 130% increase in the use of the General Services Administration's Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) cloud security assessment program.

As COVID-19 forces agencies to shift workforces remotely, they're adapting rapidly to new collaborative applications. The impact of those on security and efficiency is just beginning to be understood, they said.

As agencies move to cloud, they are getting a better grasp that the responsibility to secure their data is not up to the cloud provider, according to D'Souza. "Agencies have to understand that [security] is split between the provider and agency," he said.

The GAO, said D'Souza, has experienced the same kind of transition, but is already feeling pressure to evolve the remote capabilities it has rolled out.

"We deployed a new videoconferencing system before" the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. "It's put that to the test," pumping up demand from GAO employees. Although the existing capabilities "are light years ahead" of what the agency was using, the agency is finding "it's not enough," said D'Souza.

Younger workers long familiar with video chats and applications on their own devices are looking for similar capabilities from the agency, according to D'Souza.

GAO, he said, is taking a cross-government look at how agencies are using collaborative IT to facilitate a remote workforce in response to the pandemic. That report, he said, should be out "in the next few months."

"It's a generational issue. Junior staff have higher expectations," of collaborative capabilities, he said.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.