Agencies across the federal government are moving toward cloud adoption with increasing speed and regularity. While the cloud offers myriad benefits once implemented, there is also value in the cloud adoption process itself, according to Maria Roat, CTO, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In her keynote address at a recent federal cloud computing summit, Roat outlined the steps DOT is taking as it finalizes a cloud strategy, as well as some lessons learned from the process.
Roat only became CTO less than a year ago, and she’s hit the ground running, quickly building a team and mapping out priorities. One priority has been developing a cloud strategy, as the department overall doesn’t currently have one in place despite a lot of activity around the cloud going on in the agency. “There are probably about thirty instances of ‘things’ going on in the cloud,” Roat said. The next step is building out a cloud strategy—a task that’s currently underway.
Roat stated “the cloud is really going to be an enabler for the Department.” She continued “We’re not just going to throw some things into the cloud; I really think it needs to be an enabler for the business of transportation.”
“Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) enable government agencies, like [DOT], to innovate in ways they never could before,” said Corey Lim, a Senior Account Executive at immixGroup. “Funding that would have otherwise been used in a yearlong procurement for hardware, can now be used to provision compute resources in the cloud within minutes, for a fraction of the price. Agencies have the freedom to be innovative, test new solutions, without the fear of buyer’s remorse.”
DOT has been working on a cloud strategy, which they plan to finalize in the next few months. Part of developing the strategy has been taking a look at enterprise architecture and creating a departmental roadmap that will lead long-term planning for the cloud. “We just wrapped up a data inventory,” shared Roat, “which has been enlightening because it’s uncovered how we’re sharing data, where we’re getting data in, how we’re making data available to the public…there’s just a ton of data around transportation.”
“When you look at cloud,” she continued, “and you start looking at this amount of data and how it’s moving and being stored across the department, you realize that there are smarter ways of using the cloud as an enabler to put that data in the cloud so that people that are out there—whether it’s the public or academia—they can access that data, take the slice that they need, do analysis, and be able to use that data.”
She stressed that the data inventory has been a valuable part of the overall cloud strategy—valuable not only in terms of cloud but in terms of informing how they’re using and storing data across the department. Another aspect of the data inventory is NIEM—the National Information Exchange Model for surface transportation. NIEM is a community-driven, standards-based approach to exchanging information that DOT is involved with.
“Another thing around data and leveraging the cloud is a data innovation sandbox,” shared Roat. “This is something that we put in our plan that addresses ‘what can we do with all this data?’ People have really good ideas but how do we make it available in a sandbox-type environment? The cloud is the perfect solution for that.”
Another area DOT is focused on is geospatial data, and Roat shared that they’re in the process of finalizing a geospatial strategic plan, in which they will leverage cloud to provide open web feature services to geospatial customers both within and outside of DOT.
“Overall, as we’re crafting these plans…we’re trying to balance moving to the cloud and how we can be agile and flexible and move to the cloud quickly yet maintain some governance around the process,” concluded Roat. “We’re really investing in the processes and procedures but not putting a bureaucracy on top of it and allowing people to be agile. We want to be innovative and agile, but also put a structure in place.”