The Federal government’s “Cloud First” strategy didn’t get quite the results the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was looking for the first time, so now OMB is about to unveil “Cloud Smart,” which updates the seven-year-old strategy with an eye toward energizing agencies that have lagged in making the transition.

OMB is planning to release the tentatively titled Cloud Smart strategy next month, focusing on three primary areas: security, workforce, and procurement. OMB is working with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the security piece of the updated strategy. The White House’s report on information technology modernization in December 2017 ordered OMB, GSA, DHS, and other agencies to refresh the Cloud First policy.

The Cloud First policy (officially, the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy) was released in 2011 to help agencies identify services ripe for moving to the cloud and provide a framework for making the transition. It also required agencies to consider cloud solutions first for any new acquisitions. Cloud First did get some results and the Federal government has been putting money into it. Despite an unexpected dip in 2017, Federal government cloud spending is expected to grow through 2021.

But while some agencies (GSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Veterans Affairs Administration among them) took up the challenge, others have held back, at least partly because of cultural resistance. For example, only about half of the 24 CFO Act agencies (all the big ones and a few others) have moved email–the lowest of the low-hanging fruit—to the cloud.

OMB spent the last year gathering feedback from agencies on the difficulties of cloud migration in developing a plan to help agencies better understand what exactly cloud computing does and the steps necessary to a successful transition.

The Cloud First strategy instructed agencies to move to the cloud, but didn’t offer a lot of detail on how to do it, Bill Hunt, a digital services expert for OMB, said this month at an event in Washington. Hunt said that some agencies remain confused about the cloud and that they, and contractors, need to be clearer about their procurements.

OMB’s guidance will, among other things, pass along lessons learned from agency cloud transitions made so far, particularly in the security, workforce, and procurement realms. “We’re really looking at a few different areas where we’ve seen success across government, and trying to leverage these best practices,” Hunt said in June, when OMB put out word that it was preparing a refreshed cloud strategy. “Those are the three main priority areas we’ve seen where agencies that are really doing it right have been working to invest.”

GSA is also trying to spark greater cloud transitions with the release this month of a new white paper for Federal agencies, called “Cloud Readiness: Preparing Your Agency for Migration.” Along with addressing security needs and taking inventory to prepare for a migration, the paper tackles a range of other concerns, GSA said in a blog post announcing the white paper (access to the full document requires an OMB MAX ID).

The issues that the GSA’s white paper addresses seem to reflect some of the concerns OMB came across in gathering feedback. Noting that “staff buy-in is critical to cloud migration success,” the paper recommends using change management principles, perhaps in concert with vendors, to prepare employees for post-migration roles, and coming to clear agreements with vendors on the details of a migration, GSA said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.