Federal agencies should strive to bring talent with cloud migration and development skills in-house rather than hiring contractors to handle migrations, said Major Gen. John Ferrari, director of the Army Program Analysis and Evaluation Office.

Speaking at the AWS Public Sector Summit today, Ferrari pulled from his office’s own experience moving to the cloud to offer some advice to other agencies looking at the cloud.

“We learned by doing, and that’s the key lesson in this. If you outsource all this, and don’t build this capability into your organizations … and you outsource it to the contractor, you will not learn and you will pay over and over again for that contractor or go through the government contracting process every time you want to do it,” he said. “A lot of people will say the government needs to contract this stuff out because we can’t retain people or hire people to do that, and I’ll tell you that’s entirely wrong. It’s a leadership issue. You can train your people to do it, retrain your people to do it and hire young people,” he added.

Ferrari noted that while his office took close to three years for their first cloud migration, their second major system migration only took three weeks, as their experience and training enabled the office to move much quicker.

“Because we brought that in house, and then leveraged our industry partners to help fill in the gaps, we went from three years to three weeks. Now we’re cooking w/ gasoline, and we’re bringing in other industry partners,” said Ferrari.

To help the workforce adjust to the cloud move, the office supported workers in creating their own training plan and providing the time to reskill to fit their new roles. Ferrari emphasized the technical staff’s role in balancing the technological expertise with the focus on the mission and core business of the migrating system.

“My government technical staff was the bridge between the contractors and the process owners. They were experts in both, and they can adapt and tell us where the business needed to change and guide the contractor into the new skills,” he said.

With government staff in place as the “data engineers,” the Program Analysis and Evaluation Office analysts are also adjusting, learning new skills to take advantage of tools in the cloud, like R and Python.

“We’re not yet over the hump on that. We are bringing in more and more tools. But we are now over the hill in the fact that our users are now very excited about these tools,” Ferrari said.

Ferrari did not discount the role of contractor support and noted that it helped support the migration to cloud. However, with the technical staff out in front leading the transformation, the major general emphasized the benefits of a workforce that has learned by doing.

“Our government IT team changed – the work they do today is completely different than the work they did three years ago, because they’re not managing servers, or patching software. They’ve actually upskilled themselves to become data engineers.”

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