Keeping to a true north, taking an open or closed approach and managing the change will help keep modernization projects under control, state and local CIOs advise.
Agencies are turning to decentralized enterprise IT ecosystems that include both on-prem systems and multiple cloud types. The implementation and management of these systems is complex and no single strategy will fit all agencies, but some best practices will help, experts said during a recent webinar.
One is establishing what James Grant, chief information officer for Florida, calls a true north – a set of core, guiding principles that agencies should run all needs and challenges against.
“Issues of the day come and go. Principles never change,” Grant said during the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center’s “Building for Secure MultiCloud Environments within State and Local Agencies” webinar on Nov. 1. “When you’re talking about your core strategy, or your philosophy, to the way you’re trying to build and manage, there should be some true north that never changes.”
For instance, when building software, agencies should consider whether they’re coming at it from a closed or open ecosystem. There are use cases for both, but they are very different approaches that vendors can’t easily shift between. “You have to know who you are and what you believe in -- what you’re trying to do,” he said.
By determining whether they support an open or closed ecosystem, agencies can also reconsider how they define an asset, added Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski.
“It really forces you to move away from the question of where are we running our services to a question of what services are we running,” Zielinski said. “I think asking … where the value is being generated leads you to a much different sort of conversation about how you look at your services,” he said. “You end up starting to talk about things -- not where are we running and what we need to do with that physical location -- but managing and securing your data, securing your services, having that line of sight into your service and understanding how they are operating.”
Keson Khieu, CIO at California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority, emphasized the importance of approaching a decentralized ecosystem from a change management perspective because it’s just as much about changing mindsets as technology.
He pointed to a common misperception that moving to the cloud automatically increases security. “I want to differentiate between the security of the cloud from the security in the cloud,” Khieu said. “Security of the cloud belongs to the cloud manufacturer, the provider. They ensure that anything that you put in the cloud will be protected. Security in the cloud is your data. When you put malware into the cloud, the malware will be very well protected, but it’s still malware.”
For Grant, a major challenge is colocation, or a shared data center. Using a single vendor would simplify matters, but that goes against Florida’s core principles of working with companies based on the best value and fostering an open marketplace, he said.
“If I have one vendor for something, they’re in control. If I have two or more vendors, I’m driving,” Grant said. “Marketplaces and markets and competition effects are timeless…. If I can put our agencies in our state in a position where we can one day shop for cloud the same way we drive by gas stations, we’re doing the right thing.”
Zielinski countered that balance is possible. For instance, he said that if the 45 departments that the Information and Technology Services Department serves each brings whatever they want into the environment, costs and vulnerabilities will get out of hand. Instead, he recommends determining common components to figure out a platform on which to run services. “It really is a balance and saying, ‘How are we going to enable folks to move forward while at the same time addressing those aspects that make this unmaintainable, that make this insecure?’” he said.
All of this comes back to the fact that no one strategy fits all, said Kevin Tunks, technology advisor and chief architect at Red Hat, a software company. One reason for that is that all agencies are at a different starting point: Some are taking inventory of the technologies they use today, while others are modernizing large legacy systems.
“What we really advocate is an incremental approach,” Tunks said. “Wherever possible, establish that point of presence in one or more of the clouds where you want to be, identify the right workloads that are small enough and digestible enough that you can build that momentum as you move there, and find partners … to help you gain experience, build the muscle memory that you want to go with as you transform your organization, because it is a process. It is a journey.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.