Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Moving to the Cloud: Business as Usual or Opportunity for Change?

Moving to the Cloud: Business as Usual or Opportunity for Change?

By Dennis D. McDonald

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Once upon a time I managed a large enterprise system consolidation project. Initially brought in to take over the database consolidation component of the project, our team quickly discovered that a separate team was also managing an upgrade to the application software running the target system, a customer support system with hundreds of inhouse daily users.

Initially our customer resisted consolidation of the two projects. As manager of the PMO it was easy for me to see the touch points of the two projects where alignment was absolutely essential. After all, if you’re converting a massive database to run on another system with a significantly different data model, you want the converted data to support the application software when you finally make the switch, right?

I’ve been reminded of that project while researching NOAA’s use of cloud vendors to support both its IT infrastructure transformation and its big data project. Making the move from one infrastructure to another isn’t just a question of moving data and applications from one host location to another. For one thing, the new infrastructure may require accommodation of new management oversight and administrative processes. Even if legacy data management and application software are being moved over “as is,” a variety of basics may have to be adapted such as backups, recovery, security, user authorizations, and maintenance and support. But you also need to keep in mind that systems — even legacy systems — have to evolve to keep up with changes such as new requirements, policy and program changes, user population changes, metadata and language standardization, competition, and increasingly, requirements for openness and transparency.

Targets tend to keep on moving. Some of these moves involve several different systems whose evolution needs to be intelligently coordinated.

I’m interested in how one coordinates the management of multiple activity threads based on my own project management experience as well as my consulting and project management interests in open data programs. Sometimes it makes sense to consider open data programs and cloud infrastructure transformation at the same time. Each can impact the other especially when a program like NOAA’s big data project includes requirements for both public access and support for third-party product development.

If you have to change both your business processes and your IT infrastructure at the same time, someone has to be in a position to monitor and control what’s going on. How do you keep things under control if you’re outsourcing both your IT infrastructure as well as pieces of your service and support operations? If you are inside the government and responsible for generating data that are now being made available via a cloud based service, to what extent can you also remain aware of how your data are being used by third party commercial developers and their customers?

I’m researching these issues. Other Federal agencies — and potential contractors and business partners – are also looking at efforts like NOAA’s as a possible model for their own infrastructure, open data, and program support programs.

Please let me know if you would like to talk about this, off the record if you prefer. My email address is

Related reading

Interim Report on the Generalizability of the NOAA Big Data Project’s Management Model

Interim Report on the Generalizability of the NOAA Big Data Project’s Management Model

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