Public vs. Private Cloud: 5 Trends to Watch

Public vs. Private Cloud: 5 Trends to Watch

Security tops the concerns of federal information technology managers as they look to move data and applications into the cloud – and that’s consistent with other public sector IT executives. But federal managers are substantially more likely to settle on private cloud solutions when compared to those managing state and local or higher education IT services.

Five trends that define the differences between how IT chiefs in each sector are approaching cloud migration:

1 Feds Keep it Private

Some 64 percent of federal IT managers said they are most likely to place a majority of their cloud-based applications in a private cloud, according to a recent study by market researcher MeriTalk. That compares with 54 percent of state and local IT managers and only 50 percent of those handling IT services for institutions of higher education.

Confining agency data to private clouds does not necessarily mean building a cloud from scratch.

Amazon Web Services has built a private cloud for the intelligence community, the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency offers private cloud services to defense clients and the Department of Agriculture’s National Information Technology Center provides cloud services to a range of civilian agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.

Experienced government technology providers have also created “government community clouds” – private environments shared across agencies with similar requirements, such as being certified as meeting Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) requirements.

“This provides confidence to the agencies since other tenants in the community cloud are all other government agencies also in need of FedRAMP compliance,” explains Srini Singaraju, chief cloud architect at General Dynamics Information Technology, which has its own government community cloud offering.

2 Special Handling Required

Regardless of affiliation, IT managers surveyed favored private cloud in three situations in particular:

  • Applications that handle sensitive information – managers were five times more likely to prefer private cloud over public cloud, 78 percent vs. 14 percent
  • Highly specialized applications used by only a select target user group – managers were three times more likely to recommend private cloud (69 percent vs. 21 percent)
  • Applications that are constantly evolving – managers were twice as likely to recommend private over public cloud (51 percent vs. 26 percent)

“Government customers have sensitive data requiring special handling,” Singaraju says. “They feel more comfortable keeping that data in a private cloud.”

3 Security is a Federal Concern

Feds are nearly one-third more likely to cite security and privacy concerns as major drawbacks to placing data in public clouds – 68 percent vs. 52 percent for state and local managers and 55 percent for higher education IT managers.

This is where shared private clouds answer the mail for government IT managers. Sharing the resource helps cloud operators gain the size and scope to make cloud computing cost effective; specializing in government support – either as a government entity or a contractor specialized in meeting government requirements – ensures that security requirements are met at every level of every system stack.

“Our platform-as-a-service is FedRAMP and FISMA certified all the way through the system layer,” says Chuck Gowans, USDA’s chief architect for enterprise data centers. USDA provides all the support, he said. That differs from typical commercial infrastructure-as-a-service offerings, which secure the infrastructure layer, but do not include application-level “patching, scanning, logging, monitoring.”

GDIT’s Singaraju agrees. “Security should be a key element in any cloud implementation. It should be included right from the beginning and should not be an afterthought.” That means applying security best practices at the software, platform and infrastructure layers and complying, at a minimum, with FedRAMP security controls.

4 Feds Stay a Step Ahead

In general, the MeriTalk study found government IT managers are still feeling their way as they step gingerly toward cloud migrations. Only about half of agencies consistently take steps such as:

  • Identify and mitigate risks
  • Develop migration strategies
  • Prioritize applications for migration
  • Build cost models
  • Prepare their workforces for the transition.

But the study also found differences among federal IT managers when compared to those in state and local government or higher education. Feds were significantly more likely to:

  • Identify and mitigate risks (63 percent to 51 percent for state/local/higher education)
  • Assess the required computing, network, and/or storage needs (53 percent to 41 percent)
  • Prepare the workforce for the transition (50 percent to 40 percent)

5 Keeping it Close

Across the board, respondents told MeriTalk that their preferred means of building trust with their cloud providers was to maintain as much control and physically keep systems as close as possible:

  • 34 percent said they keep security functions on-premise and/or in-house (including access controls and monitoring functions)
  • 31 percent said they require data be located on dedicated servers, storage or network infrastructure – essentially demanding private even when moving into public cloud setups
  • 31 percent said they require access to their cloud providers’ systems for security and procedural audits

Reducing risk does not mean having to control every step in the process, however. “Having an experienced system integrator providing managed services reduces the risk to an agency,” Singaraju says. “Integrators have the experience and expertise to handle government applications and data and the technical sophistication to leverage industry best practices.”

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5 Critical Steps to a Better Citizen Experience

5 Critical Steps to a Better Citizen Experience

We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.

– Jeff Bezos, founder, Amazon.com

Long lines, painstakingly long hold times, wasting time looking for the information you need in language you can’t understand, dropped calls, and getting passed from one person to another who can’t seem to help you … No, this has nothing to with changing internet service or cable TV providers. It’s the stereotypical government experience…or the one we tend to expect.

But what if paying your taxes was as simple as buying a pair of shoes? What if registering your car was as easy as queuing up a movie on Amazon Prime? If consumer companies can make this stuff easy, why can’t the government?

Fair or not, that’s what today’s customers expect, says Tish Falco, senior director of customer experience (CX) at General Dynamics Information Technology. “Today, citizens expect more,” she says. “Empowered citizens are more discerning, more discriminating and better armed with information to get help elsewhere using every imaginable device.  They expect a seamless, omni-channel experience. They expect to be  recognized and engaged and to resolve issues quickly.

Indeed, government agencies are getting on board, embracing customer experience to help meet increasing citizen expectations.  “They realize better customer experiences make sense not just for the customer, but also for their own efficient use of resources,” Falco says. 

The first and most important step is commitment: having the will and vision to simplify the process and improve the experience. Since the contact center is often the face of the government and its most accessible channel, here are five key steps you can take to enhance your agency’s customer experience:

1Understand that your customers are mobile

More and more interactions take place via mobile devices, placing increased demand on customer contact systems to help citizen-customers quickly solve their problems. Slow page loads and long waits on the phone are anathema to the expectations of mobile users.

“We need to ask: How do I make that a more customized and personalized process?” said Jeff Beelman, senior director for contact center solutions at General Dynamics Information Technology. “Is there a way I can push a personalized IVR (interactive voice response) right to that phone based on past history, to say: ‘Are you calling about the information you viewed on our website?’ Or, ‘Based on your inquiry history, are you calling about your account balance?’”

The city and county of Denver, Colo., created a mobile web app, pocketgov.com, cited as an IVR trendsetter by the Association of Government Contact Center Professionals (AGCCP).

“With ever increasing phone calls to Denver’s 3-1-1 Contact Center, they recognized an opportunity to solve issues using popular technology which would provide efficient and individualized customer service,” AGCCP noted in citing Denver and its app with its 3rd Annual Award of Distinction. Pocketgov.com allows users to make payments, report concerns, look up property values and access customized services using any mobile device.

“Since the inception of pocketgov.com in January 2015, thousands of citizens have created profiles on the application resulting in the reduction of 3-1-1 phone calls and an expected savings of more than $250,000 per year,” the associated writes.

Other leaders cited by the Government Contact Center Council include the U.S. Postal Service, for its mobile app providing information on nearby postal facilities and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Dolphin and Whale 9-1-1 app, whose “call to report” button uses the caller’s GPS coordinates to connect them with local stranding-response assets.

2Recognize the customer’s voice

Digital technology is also transforming telephone systems. New advances in voice biometrics promise increasingly personalized service as call centers gain the capacity to recognize an individual by voice as if it were an audio fingerprint.

“The technology is getting better for this, enough so that we are starting to see it being used for security purposes,” said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC and a co-founder of ucstrategies.com. The ability to use voice as an identification/verification factor is particularly attractive for government agencies.

“If someone has a cold it may not work as well,” Pleasant said. “So you want to have some backup authentication, some security questions to answer. But in many cases, it is very accurate and it can be very automated.”

3Leverage cloud to scale with demand

As in nearly every other digital arena, cloud is changing the contact center ecosystem. When unbroken uptime is a measure of success, cloud computing offers call center directors a way to ensure more seamless operations, Beelman said.

Cloud delivers the ability to scale operations in response to surges in demand and to sustain a fully redundant system that can remain in operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without having to shut down for maintenance or updates.

The distributed nature of the cloud also helps contact center managers contend with staffing challenges. “It gives you great flexibility in where you can place resources. Contact Center staff can be located anywhere and work anytime, providing better business continuity,” Beelman said.

4Learn the new metrics

Technology also changes the way contact center managers measure success. Traditionally, metrics were pegged to time: How long does it take a representative to answer a call? How long do callers wait on hold? What is the abandon rate – the rate at which callers hang up rather than wait any longer – and how long is the average interaction?

Not anymore. “Now it is all about resolving issues on the first call and reducing customer effort,” Beelman said. “Did I get my problem resolved on the first try or did I get transferred to someone else? Did I have to call back to check on the status of an inquiry? That is a big measure of success. Customer effort and how the customer was feeling at the time of an inquiry are the main indicators of customer experience. It’s more than just statistics about the efficiency of the call center. It’s about customer outcomes.”

Task completion and customer satisfaction are increasingly important metrics at USAGov, a phone, email and chat contact center service offered by GSA to federal agencies. USAGov measures these through post-interaction polling. “We now consider that a huge part of whether an interaction was successful,” said Sonya Beres, contact center manager. She is also a former co-chair of the Government Contact Center Council, a working group of government call center executives. “We need to look at what the customer thinks is a great interaction, and build our systems to meet those needs.”

5Use machines, but make them smart

With the rise of chat bots and other online aids, customer contact is increasingly being managed by machine. Advances in artificial intelligence have virtual assistants primed to tackle a range of front-line customer inquiries and learn as they go, becoming increasingly attuned to the nuances in human speech and responding not just to the content, but also to the tone of a caller’s voice. Remember how livid you were the last time a mechanical voice couldn’t decipher your question, and defaulted to simply asking you to repeat yourself over and over again? The best systems today won’t ever make that mistake. They will recognize your frustration and find help – fast.

And as artificial speech becomes better and more natural, virtual assistants powered by artificial intelligence may ultimately be indistinguishable from human representatives. That’s not creepy – it’s progress. By smoothly handling more calls, live reps will be able to devote their attention to more complex queries, while also easing frustration among citizens seeking quick answers to simple questions.

 

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The Cyber Divide:  Feds Split on Their Cyber Security

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Talking Tech: Securing Your Clearance

Talking Tech: Securing Your Clearance

Security clearance reform is underway. Continuous monitoring and insider threat detection have begun. But these are still new concepts, and the challenges go well beyond technology.

So says Tony Cothron, a former chief of naval intelligence and now a vice president at General Dynamics Information Technology.
“I used to say, without security, there is no intelligence. I think today, from where I’m sitting, without security there is no success in business, there is no success in government, there certainly is no success in national security.”

Government is collecting ever more data on each person with a clearance. The aim is to make everyone more secure. But challenges remain: First, all that data must be secured and protected. And second, it must be analyzed. “On continuous monitoring, we’re not there yet,” Cothron says. “We don’t have the instrumentation of all the networks, of all the organizations, to really be on top of it and stop the abnormal behavior and stop insider threats.”

It will take more work and more cooperation and collaboration to bring convert continuous monitoring from a vision into a real-time tool.

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Talking Tech: Bringing Stakeholders Together

Talking Tech: Bringing Stakeholders Together

Connecting emerging technologies to the government agencies that can put them to work is a critical mission for the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center. The center helps foster communication and exchange between government, industry and academia.

Government, industry and academia come together at the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC), an organization dedicated to increasing dialog among and promoting a deeper technical understanding of complex emerging technology issues.

ATARC partners with the Mitre Corporation, a federally funded research and development center, to conduct summits on issues such as cloud computing and mobile technology, leveraging shared interests among government, industry and academic experts to produce policy memos and white papers.

“We establish these informal networks, where if you have a question down the line, you can go ahead and call your partner at another agency,” says Tom Suder, ATARC’s president and founder. “I think that’s the best thing we do: We get people together. We do have outcomes, but we have collaboration, this constant collaboration, and we encourage that … You’re breaking down these silos, because everybody really has the exact same problems.”

Programs like this are more vital now than ever before, Suder says. “Technology has always changed. It’s the pace of change is what I see as really happening a lot faster.”

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