Overcoming Cloud/Azure Adoption Obstacles for Federal, State, and Local Government Organizations
Greetings and happy Thanksgiving from us here at AvePoint! We recently conducted a webinar about what barriers are keeping some government agencies from adopting the cloud and how those obstacles can be overcome. Read the transcript of Jay Leask, CollabTalk’s Christian Buckley and Brian Levenson from Microsoft as they discuss all things government, cloud, and security in this excerpt from a recent webinar.
Jay Leask: Good afternoon, and welcome to this afternoon’s webinar presented by AvePoint Public Sector. My name is Jay Leask, and you are here, hopefully, to hear the: How Federal, State, and Local Government Agencies Can Overcome Barriers to Microsoft Cloud Adoption webinar. As I mentioned, my name is Jay Leask. I am a solutions architect at AvePoint Public Sector. Prior to working here, I was a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, providing project management, technical analysis, business analysis, and solutions advice to customers around the federal government.
I’d also like to take a moment to introduce my cohosts, Christian Buckley and Brian Levenson. Christian, would you like to introduce yourself?
Christian Buckley: Yeah, hey. Thanks a lot, Jay. Yeah, this is Christian Buckley. I am the founder and CEO of CollabTalk, and I’m a seven-time Microsoft MVP. So, happy to be here.
Jay: And Brian.
Brian Levenson: Hello, I’m Brian Levenson. I’m a product marketing manager at Microsoft, specifically focused on Office 365 for US Government at state, local, tribal, federal, and civilian, federal defense, as well as defense industry in aerospace. So, really, anyone supporting the public sector and seeking to make life better for citizens of the United States. Prior to joining the product marketing team here Redmond, I was a technical account manager in Minneapolis working with large enterprise organizations, as well as states, adopting cloud technologies. So, been on this team for about two and half years, I did that for six years, so going back to the early 2000s when cloud was still quite fresh. And it’s really a pleasure to be here today.
Jay: Brian, you were recently out here in DC at the Microsoft gov forum, is that correct?
Brian: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That was, I believe, October 17th in the Ronald Reagan Building in DC, and we had a lot of great conversations. We were joined by a number of different government agencies, talking about the really cool work that’s being done both in IT and, kind of, broader digital transformation across agencies. We heard from the CIO of the Small Business Admiration, folks from the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, and really had a great time connecting with both government employs, folks working in IT, and then also partners and other folks from Microsoft. I love DC. I happen to be based in Seattle, but DC feels like my second home. I’m out there quite frequently.
Jay: And Christian, you’ve been traveling a lot, too. You want to tell us about South Africa?
Christian: Yeah. So, well, it’s a country that’s at the southernmost tip of the continent. [Laughs] It was a lot of fun. I spent almost three weeks on the road with the AvePoint team. We did multiple events there, the SharePoint Saturday events that took place in Durban, the following weekend out in Johannesburg, and then the third weekend in Cape Town.
In between, partnering with AvePoint and a couple of your partners in-country, so Karabina and Mint were able to go and do a number of other miniature events during each of the weeks, and talking with customers and partners and organizations across the country. But also got the chance to stop by a Microsoft headquarters in Johannesburg and meet with some of the leadership team there, and talk about the two data centers that are…the Microsoft data centers coming online next year.
So, it’s very exciting to see what’s happening, and for those that aren’t aware of that, the fact that Microsoft is continuing to expand their datacenter footprint around Office 365 and Azure Support, and looking at, like, Australia, when that datacenter came online there, how much it changed what was possible with the companies down there, we’re going to see the same kind of growth, certainly within South Africa, but across the entire African continent. So, very exciting to go down and be a part of that.
Collaboration Trends in the Public Sector
Jay: Yeah, we were excited to have you. And, Brian, very excited to have you today, as well. I pulled up our agenda slide. I’m just going to talk about it very briefly. This is our goal for the next 50 or so minutes. We’d like to talk about some collaboration trends we’ve seen in Public Sector; get into the meat of some of the roadblocks that you may see in…or may have in moving towards the Microsoft Cloud stack, both infrastructure and software as a service; certifications and compliance; talking a little bit about budget; and, finally, talking about some of the challenges you may face in actually implementing and migrating to the cloud.
Before we get into those specific categories, what I want to do is set the table a little bit. Fewer than 11 percent of organizations, Fortune 500 companies, from the 1950s are around still. That’s 60, almost 70 years now where a vast majority of companies who had large, almost empires, you might say, have had a difficult time following change and keeping up with what is happening with business and with populations.
Jack Welch, GM’s CEO said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near,” and that’s a big statement. And I realize that a lot of times you see something like this and you think, “Okay, well, that’s commercial, and I’m federal,” or, “state and local government,” or, “I’m tribal government,” it still affects what I think you are providing to your constituents. If you are not able to keep up with change, how well can you accomplish your mission?
An example of seeing that staple here, I go back to a staple of my teenage years or so. Every Friday night, my family would get together, we’d pick a restaurant, we’d grab dinner, and then we’d go get three movies: one for my mom, one for my dad, and one for the kids. And we would go to Blockbuster.
We would get some candy, we’d pick a movie, we’d go home. And two, three days later, we’d realize we were late on returning it, have a small fee. But the point there is every single week…and I knew…I had friends that worked there, I knew other families that did the same thing. In 1999, Blockbuster went IPO, they were valued at $4.8 billion. In 2004, they had 9,000 stores; 60,000 employees.
And in 2007, their CEO made a redirected investment from their online opportunities to opening new stores. He believed that people would continue to go to the store to pickup their movie, and they would go for the experience that came with that. Obviously, looking back, we’ve seen a change in that. In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, and by 2013, Blockbuster, other than the Twitter account that’s still lies around and makes comments about their parking lot, Blockbuster is no more. And in 2011, the remaining stores were purchased by Dish Network. And what we’ve seen for that specific industry is a switch from the standard, the status quo, to a constant innovation. And I say that because we see a shift that happens constantly.
This is a world where devices… Oh, did I do that? Sorry. There’s a ghost in the machine. So, what we see is a world where devices outnumber people. Where we’re consuming data faster than ever before. Where technology is disrupting everything from how we purchase cars and how we watch movies, frankly, to how we commute to our offices. And that change, it’s something that we have to bring into the workplace, whether it’s a commercial workplace, or a government workplace, it’s a change that will affect how we can meet our mission. Part of that is a mindset of the employee, and part of that is, frankly, a mindset of the consumer of our mission. Sorry, getting used to the interface a little bit there.
I’ve heard it a number of times, we’re shifting from a commodity IT to a mission IT. We have to be able to focus on the mission. We can no longer have technology that focuses on simply putting out a new piece of tech, we actually have to talk to the business, we have to define the requirements, etc. And it’s a different world.
I wanted to set that in front of you to provide a background for what I believe, and what I think AvePoint tends to follow, is that realization that we have to approach things differently than we have before. And I think the cloud is…the capabilities that are coming with the cloud, whether it’s infrastructure as a service or the rate of change in which we’re seeing technology with software as a service, I think it’s a game changer. Brian, Christian, I’ve been talking for a little while, not as smooth as I had hoped for, but what are your thoughts on that…around what we’re seeing?
Brian: You know, I think you’re exactly right. And I particularly like this quote, and I did ask him for permission to share. This came from the CTO of HUD or Housing and Development. And I think it’s really a great way to kind of recognize what is possible with the cloud, and the shift that technology is bringing to the way that we — and when I say ‘we’ I mean all of us in government agencies — are approaching the work that we do, and the services that we deliver, to citizens and to constituents. For many, many years, IT has focused on making sure that the environment is available and stable, and that’s…when I worked with large enterprise organizations and states, that was really our key focus: it needs to be available and stable.
And what has started to shift — and we’ve seen this in the enterprise space, we see it in public sector — is to really kind of realign the mission of IT very closely with the mission of the agency, or, in the commercial space, the business. And it’s things like allowing us to, rather than focus on making sure that we’re procuring enough hardware, rather, do we have the solutions that are needed by our users? And then that starts to also come into line with things like shadow IT, and then handling sensitive information appropriately: making sure that data is not only classified using records management, protected with data loss prevention and rights management as well, but also easy to collaborate with. We need to know where the data is; how are people working? And the cloud really enables that.
And, as we’ll talk about — and I think you really kind of nailed this in the intro — I’ve experienced many times where I talk to folks and they say, “Cool, the cloud sounds great. So, are we there yet?” [Laughs] And it’s a little bit more of an involved process, and we’ll talk about that a bit more around when we think about, what data are we holding? How do we think about moving it up to the cloud? How do we do this for, whether, it’s tens of users or tens of thousands of users. and whether it’s a phased approach based on the individuals, or the data being done, or the projects, and how do we manage this in a seamless experience for our users so that there’s no disruption to the user community? But then, also, driving some of that change in the organization’s work style such that we’re able to benefit from what is possible with the cloud.
So, I just…Jay, I think you totally nailed it with, really, the trends that we’re seeing, and you coupled that with talent management and making sure that we’re managing costs appropriately because, I think, as is probably relevant for all of us, do more with less seems to be not specific to public sector but especially relevant when we think about all of our budgets and what’s being asked of us.
Jay: Christian, anything to add or correct to what we’ve shared so far?
Christian: Well, just, apologies. I think some of the folks are having some difficulties with slides and I was just trying to solve the problem on my end, as well. But I think as far as where things are going — and, there, I just pushed out the trends that are out there — couple things that my organization has helped with.
So, CollabTalk does some independent research, and at the beginning of this year we had Microsoft as a lead sponsor, and AvePoint was one of the sponsors of a study that we did, for example, at looking at hybrid SharePoint. And what’s interesting in going in and looking at that study, is getting data on some of the larger trends, and certainly movement towards the cloud. I think there’s a lot of relevant data that came out of that.
Not that I think that we were surprised by any of that information, but I think what…rather than just companies going out and jumping into new technology, organizations are looking at and assessing the pieces that they have out there, really trying to understand, what is the capability that’s missing here? What is going to get us the functionality, certainly, that we need, but also make sure that we are…ongoing, we are compliant, we are secure? Kind of all of those other things. It’s more so than I’ve seen in the almost 20 years that I’ve been in the collaboration, knowledge management sector, where organizations are really trying to understand the various components.
So, while we talk a lot about the digital transformation and movement towards the cloud, these aren’t just these empty platitudes that are there; I think that it’s more often than not, organizations are being very thoughtful and careful about looking and understanding: What is it? How do these pieces work?
How can I leverage what I’ve already built, what we’ve already paid for that’s in place? And as we are expanding our footprint and our capabilities, are we doing it in the right way? I mean, are we stepping into unnecessary risks, and how do we mitigate the risks that are out there to give our end users the capabilities that they need? So, it’s just…it has been a very refreshing, over the last, especially, two years, to see this kind of thoughtful review as organizations are starting to consider moving their production environments over to the cloud.
Collaboration and Security
Jay: And, Christian, you just mentioned something that always, kind of, not only resonates with me, but I like to tease people about a little bit, where you mentioned that you’ve been working in the collaboration space as a thought leader, advi… — well, my words, kind of, pushed onto you there — as a thought leader with deep experience in collaboration. I used to tease my colleagues that collaboration and security were often enemies. Have you started to see a shift as we look at the cloud, where we’re able to collaborate more securely than ever before, and start to enable scenarios where it’s not one or the other? Is that a trend that you’re seeing, kind of, across the board?
Christian: Definitely. And, in fact, so, AvePoint and Microsoft Public Sector are the two cosponsors of a research project that’s currently underway. So, I’ve got a team of graduate students at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University here in Utah, which is where I’m based, that are doing this study and looking at this right now, at kind of the talk-blocking factors — I mean, it’s basically the title of this webinar — the blocking factors for federal, state, and local organizations moving into the cloud. And what you just mentioned, the concerns that, to get the capabilities that people want, that they have to give up some things, introduce some risks around collaboration, I don’t think it’s true.
And that’s where… I think that those… Traditionally, it has been true, and,certainly, if you go look at some of those trends that are out there, where the traditional IT release cycle is as slow, is burdensome, and so end users, certainly out in the commercial world, will go out and pay with their own personal credit card for some online service that seems to give them everything that they want, but now they’ve put their data out into this untrusted cloud system.
And it may be very innocuous on the surface, but six months later, you’re leveraging this cloud service, whether it’s something like Box, or Dropbox, or something else that’s not compliant, maybe doesn’t meet the standards of that organization of that entity, your company, and you leave the company. Well, now, you’ve put all of that at risk, that data’s not acceptable, it’s…I can’t audit it, I can’t secure it, I can’t manage it, do it anything with. And so, those kinds of scenarios add to the complexity. That trend towards these cloud-based, consumer-based collaboration solutions.
And so, Microsoft is doing a great job of saying, “Hey, look, we have this capability, this like capability of some of these leading services.” And in many categories, Microsoft is the leader in those collaboration technologies. But Microsoft has been great about going and in and now saying, “Hey, we’re doing this, but in a managed way,” because they understand that, certainly, the enterprise story is that it has to be managed, it has to be governed, that by telling end users, no, you can’t do something, that decreases the amount of collaboration, that decreases the amount of innovation, that affects end user adoption of that platform.
But, by giving these capabilities, and then being able to back it up, and Microsoft providing this guidance and saying, “But, look, we’re doing it in a secure, managed way. We are meeting these standards in these industries. We’re meeting these certifications, and you tell your end users, yes, you can do this, and we can then show you that it is secure in the backend.” So, it’s a much more controlled, managed, well-governed way of helping your end users increase the amount of collaboration that’s happening in the org.
Jay: Ah, that’s awesome. And there’s a core component of that that I’ve personally kind of struggled with throughout my, I guess, kind of, life, is that it’s possible to secure information very strongly to inhibit collaboration, but then there’s also the aspect of, historically, it’s required deliberate action by the user: “I need to go set a policy,” or, “I need to put it somewhere, change the permissions, and make sure that it’s not widely accessible throughout my company,” or even the public. And so, what we’ve started to see throughout Office 365, Azure, EMS, Dynamics, the entire Microsoft Suite, is that we’re building in these security capabilities, this information protection functionality, but also trying to do it in a way that is intuitive to the user.
Things like Azure Information Protection can automatically classify information using machine learning based on what’s put in the content. The user doesn’t have to do anything except for, maybe, say, in the email that they’re sending, or in the document that they’re writing, enter in a credit card number, put in a Social Security number, or write ‘secret’, ‘confidential’, ‘classified’, ‘controlled’ whatever it may be.
Based on the policies set by IT, you can automatically classify that, and based on the classification applied, also defined by our policy, set a specific retention policy. Or using data loss prevention policies in email; say, if an email has a Social Security number in it, automatically apply rights permissions that doesn’t allow this to be opened by someone outside of our organization.
And that type of thing takes the onus off of the user, it’s seamless and transparent to them, but protects the data in the appropriate way as defined by your security officer, central IT, or even industry regulations coming out of, say, DHS. So, there’s some pretty cool things in the ways that we think about security throughout the Suite as being built in rather than bolted on.
Brian: Yeah, that trend in automation…
Christian: That’s like sharing, as well, is that the…you know, sorry, it’s like with sharing something, where it’s, instead of just restricting, saying, “No, you cannot share this file,” instead it allows it but then warns you, it prompts you, like, “You are now sharing this outside of your organization.” And then you can go, “Oh, whoa, I didn’t realize that, that this person is not within the space where we’re having this conversation, or where we have this secure content.” So, that kind of proactive governance, as well as…that’s just one example of how this storyline is improving.
Jay: Yeah, that trend in automation that you’re talking about is, and we’re seeing it all over the place, from the enterprise back down to the consumer. The trend in trying to improve the enterprise tools to match what consumers are getting when they’re home, that’s another one where we’re seeing a big improvement, and I think Microsoft is leading the way in making sure that what the enterprise user has meets or exceeds what they can at home with their family and their friends.
Additionally, I think you guys have led pretty clearly to what we’re seeing in Microsoft Office 365. Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, we had Hotmail. Eventually, that led its way into Outlook Mail, and now we’re seeing an experience from what you have on the desktop with Outlook at the office matching the experience of what you see in Outlook.com at home, and so on. The tools with Skype and Skype for Business, and soon to be Teams, again, we’re seeing that same trend of giving me what I have in both of my worlds, at home and in the business; making it easy to use; making it easy to be enforced. It’s huge. It’s a big improvement.
Be sure to visit AvePoint Public Sector to learn more about how Federal, State, and Local governments can overcome adoption barriers to leverage Office 365 and the Azure Cloud to optimize their collaboration.