The rate of cloud adoption in the Federal government may not be keeping up with the hype around the new technology or the demands of IT professionals at Federal agencies, according to new research conducted by MeriTalk.

In August, multiple officials at leading cloud infrastructure-as-a-service providers said that the rate of Federal government cloud penetration represented just single-digit percentages of IT spending. The numbers varied, but the consensus from the major cloud players was that the U.S. government hovers well below ten percent on cloud spending. Self-reported data from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), cited by one of those officials, placed the figure even lower–at below three percent.

That’s compared to dramatically higher global cloud penetration across other industries. Research firm Gartner predicts that 28 percent of all IT spending will be on cloud infrastructure, middleware, application and services by 2021.

So how does that square with the thinking of leaders in government agencies themselves? A new MeriTalk survey of 150 Federal IT managers familiar with their agencies’ cloud migration plans finds that those officials believe cloud adoption rates at their agencies average 17 percent–around three to five times higher than the actual Federal adoption rate.

The survey’s figures indicate that cloud may not yet be making the headway that those Federal IT managers believe it is. Despite all the hype, agencies haven’t yet poured the type of investment into cloud that other industries are seeing.

But like the global market, Feds are expecting change: 77 percent of those surveyed expect cloud adoption to increase in their agencies in just the next year, with 27 percent expecting a significant increase.

So how are government officials expecting that change to come about? OMB on Monday released the first update to its cloud strategy since 2011, with a draft of the new Federal “Cloud Smart” strategy.

Just prior to that release, MeriTalk asked Federal IT managers what types of guidance they would like to see in the new strategy.

A number of common themes emerged, and the consensus was that the roadmap for adoption needs to be more clearly articulated. In 2011, agencies were given broad guidance to move to the cloud under the “Cloud First” policy, but many felt that blanket statement wasn’t entirely met with actionable steps.

That’s what many of the Federal leaders surveyed are looking for out of Cloud Smart, including a “clear long-term strategy and roadmap” and “a more streamlined process to get cloud services implemented.”

Survey participants added that the administration should “be very specific about what we need to do as an agency,” and have “a definitive answer to data and security ramifications,” even if that means longer documents and more Q&A sessions to clarify. Participants in the survey flagged security uncertainty as a major contributor to slow growth in the public sector.

Along the same lines, others are looking for “a standardized and unified approach,” “better integration of resources,” and “more interagency collaboration,” as a way to clarify what is working well at this early stage in the migration journey.

OMB reiterated many of the officials’ concerns in the Cloud Smart draft, highlighting the need for a standardized approach that unites the three disciplines of security, procurement, and workforce.

The administration also said that the new cloud strategy will showcase success stories across the Federal government, but the initial draft does not yet appear to possess a concrete implementation plan that Federal IT managers have been pining for.

The administration is seeking public comment on the Cloud Smart strategy, and it announced that the next eighteen months will see more policy updates and action steps paving the way for better agency cloud migration. Agencies will be hoping the lessons of the past seven years will allow them to carry positive momentum into their own operations.

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Joe Franco
Joe Franco
Joe Franco is a Program Manager, covering IT modernization, cyber, and government IT policy for