The time is now for the federal government to move forward aggressively with plans to consume IT as a service in the cloud. Thus far, we have seen only baby steps, with individual agencies moving e-mail and perhaps collaboration software to a cloud environment.

But in order to meet the goal of operating with reduced budgets while increasing efficiency, a new culture must take shape, starting with revamping the procurement and program-based funding process.

In addition, the government needs a champion for the movement to the cloud, an individual in a high-profile position who can say, “This is the right thing to do.” This person must be able to not only mandate that every agency have a cloud strategy but also drive agencies toward a clearly defined road map on their journey to the cloud, in support of the government’s “cloud first” policy.

Perhaps most importantly, the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget must review procurement policies and update those that hold agencies back from implementing a cloud-first strategy. Hopefully, that will change procuring IT in a stovepiped fashion based on program funding to one that is consolidated and resource requirement-driven.

In terms of culture change, the government must want to move to the cloud, perhaps with the same urgency that accompanied the move to online technologies in recent history. Anyone can suggest change in government policy, but enforcement is a different story. That’s why we need a “cloud czar” or someone with a title to that effect, with the authority to mandate change.

Let’s say, for example, if the Social Security Administration wants to modernize how benefits are processed. This effort would require software development, some hardware components and IT resources to run and maintain this operation. Today, agencies must identify the components of the solution, then request funding for the program. Once funding is in place, a request for proposals is created to solicit bids. Funding comes in with the idea that all these components that make up the solution are going to be new, such as hardware, software, support and IT staff. In a cloud environment, however, it doesn’t work that way.

With a cloud model, the agency might still need software and developers, but perhaps hardware resources could be procured as a service instead of new bare metal. Because with a shared environment like the cloud, multiple programs can share the hardware and the IT resources required to run the operations. Underused resources on one program can be quickly repurposed to support new programs, thereby reducing the overall expense of new hardware. The cloud forces the IT administrators to share resources across programs — perhaps even across agencies.

Current IT procurement policies, procedures and contracting vehicles are designed to provide hardware and software, not IT as a service. In other words, the procurement process and how the programs are funded must change to allow agencies to procure IT as a service, not as a system.

We should not wait around. The world is moving fast. Technology is changing faster than the policies and procedures. Technology to realize IT operational efficiencies from a cloud-based IT model is here; what holds us back are outdated procurement policies that must recognize a new way of doing business.

Sudhir Verma is vice president of consulting services and the project management office at Crofton-based data company Force 3.