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US Army Marches to the Cloud

By John K. Higgins
Jan 13, 2016 5:00 AM PT

The U.S. Army may be in the walking phase of its plan to shift major portions of its information technology resources to the cloud, but a recent contracting initiative could move the service up to a jogging pace by the end of the year.

US Army Marches to the Cloud

The Army's progress in migrating much of its IT capabilities to the cloud was characterized as a crawl during 2015. The service's goal was to move to a walk status in fiscal 2016, and then to a run level in 2017 and 2018, according to a 2015 briefing by Col. John Rozsnyai, chief of the enterprise architecture division for the Army CIO.

The service launched the cloud contracting initiative in November when it asked for comments from vendors on a draft request for proposals for the Army Cloud Computing Enterprise Transformation, or ACCENT, program. The Army is assessing industry feedback on the draft.

To supplement those comments, the Army issued a specific capability and task questionnaire for potential vendors and set a deadline of Friday for responses.

The ACCENT program supports the Army's effort to move certain IT applications, systems and data to the commercial cloud, according to an Army notice last month. The scope of the program includes services and solutions needed to migrate eligible enterprise applications to the cloud. Components will include Information as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service.

Contractor Selection Process

A major feature of the procurement effort is the use of what is essentially a blanket purchase agreement process, which the Army is calling a blanket ordering agreement, or BOA. The Army will select a number of vendors to provide a variety of cloud services for what amounts to a standing roster of prequalified businesses. Those vendors will be eligible to compete for specific cloud projects under various task orders.

To counter vendor lock-in -- when certain vendors gain a measure of exclusivity in bidding for contracts -- the Army will limit the duration of the BOAs to three years. It also will allow additional contractors to be brought on each year. Task orders will use a range of pricing mechanisms, including fixed price, firm-fixed price, cost plus fixed fee, cost-reimbursement and labor-hour contracts.

Much of the draft RFP was devoted to ensuring proper IT safeguards, including use of the FedRAMP process as well as the incorporation of Department of Defense cybersecurity requirements. Having all potential vendors meet uniform security standards under BOAs should facilitate the contracting process.

The ACCENT program is not new -- the name was adopted with the issuance of the draft RFP but essentially succeeds the existing Army Cloud Hosting Contract Vehicle.

A 'Must Win' for Vendors

"My understanding is that ACCENT contract holders will be the primary providers of commercial cloud services to the Army, and I have heard that ACCENT will be the go-to contract vehicle used by the Army Application Migration Business Office for migrating applications to commercial clouds," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"In this sense, securing a spot on ACCENT is a must-win for vendors hoping to do cloud business with the Army. Award of the contract would definitely be a notable milestone for the Army and probably for the DoD as a whole because it will provide customers with a bevy of cleared vendors to choose from," Rossino said.

A final request for proposals most likely would be issued between July and December, he estimated.

"The documents I've seen suggest that Army customers will be able to use private, public and community cloud models as part of ACCENT. Also, multiple types of on- and off-premises cloud models will be available. The important thing is that the models comply with the DOD Security Requirements Guide," Rossino noted.

The potential value of the multiyear cloud effort has yet to be determined. However, the Army's 2016 budget request for its IT operations, including maintenance and new developments, was $9.1 billion.

"ACCENT represents a big step forward for the Army. Clearing vendors so that solutions meet DOD security standards has been a big roadblock to DOD's use of the cloud so far. Having a vehicle like ACCENT with a stable of cleared vendors should accelerate Army's use of cloud solutions and provide plenty of business opportunity for vendors on the ACCENT vehicle," Rossino said.

The Federal Buzz

Interior Cloud Set: A project to move the Department of the Interior's financial and business management system, or FBMS, to the cloud has been completed, according to Unisys, which managed the program.

Interior is the first federal organization to move its SAP financial management application to the cloud, the company said.

In cooperation with partner Virtustream, Unisys provided an IaaS solution, including Virtustream's SAP in the Cloud hosting services.

FBMS is an integrated financial and management system, which gives Interior and its component bureaus the ability to plan, budget, allocate, account for, analyze and report on all budgetary, appropriation, expenditure, acquisition, grant and property activities.

The system uses SAP and Compusearch core business management and reporting components, and is integrated with supporting payroll, procurement and travel systems.

"The project does not eliminate SAP," said Greg Gordon, vice president for the Interior Department account at Unisys Federal.

"Unisys offers a robust IaaS solution on which the SAP-based application operates," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"This project is right in line with the Obama administration's Cloud First strategy, leveraging the cloud's shared infrastructure and economies of scale to more rapidly respond to changing business requirements and to support the department's mission," Casey Coleman, group vice president for civilian agencies at Unisys Federal, told the E-Commerce Times.

"Moving to the cloud has been a game changer for the Department of the Interior, helping us modernize the way we do business," said Sylvia Burns, CIO at the Interior Department.

"By moving our financial management system to the cloud, we are able to make our data and applications more accessible," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"We are pleased to be a leader among federal agencies in embracing the Cloud First strategy at Interior. We are certainly realizing the benefits," Burns said.

Cloud Adoption Guide: Concerned about federal cloud adoption, the Professional Services Council has released a report that outlines best practices for agencies to use when adopting commercial cloud technologies.

"With the imperatives to replace aging infrastructure, gain access to new applications and improve cybersecurity, now more than ever, federal agencies need to realize the benefits of cloud computing," said PSC executive vice president Dave Wennergren.

A PSC survey of federal CIOs in 2015 showed that only 8 percent of federal CIOs "felt that they had progressed as far as they wanted to in implementing cloud-based solutions," he said.

The report, "Best Practices for Federal Agency Adoption of Commercial Cloud Solutions," offers a detailed guide to transitioning to a commercial cloud provider and 14 real-world case studies highlighting successful cloud adoptions. Topics include understanding the value of cloud technology, utilizing a service-centric approach to the cloud, and focusing on appropriate service-level agreements.

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

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