Apps.Gov to Bring Cloud Efficiencies to Federal Agencies

The federal government has launched Apps.Gov, an online app store for federal agencies and workers, in the hope of reducing the US$75 billion a year it spends on IT. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra introduced the site Tuesdayin a speech at the NASA Ames Research Center, as well as in a White House blog post.

The goal is for the federal government to leverage the efficiencies that cloud computing can deliver, Kundra said, and to bring its computing capabilities up to the level of the private sector.

“Our policies lag behind new trends, causing unnecessary restrictions on the use of new technology,” he wrote.

What Is Cloud Computing?

The site has a straightforward layout — complete with a mini-tutorial on what “cloud computing” is, for workers unfamiliar with the delivery model.

The apps available are divided into four broad areas, including business apps, cloud IT services, productivity apps and social media apps. These areas are then refined even further: Under business apps, for example, there are an additional 33 categories, ranging from knowledge management to sourcing, from auctions to ERP.

In some cases, the Web site serves as merely an aggregator of these various applications. Under social media apps, for instance, workers looking for a blogging platform are directed to WordPress — a freetool. Indeed, every application listed in this subsection — which includes discussion tools, wikis, document sharing, idea generation and social networks — connects users to a free source.

Given the depth and breadth of the IT demands of the federal government, Kundra acknowledged that Apps.Gov is starting out small — and that it is lacking in a few key areas, such as security. Its goal is to rapidly scale up in size.

“Along the way, we will need to address various issues related to security, privacy, information management and procurement to expand our cloud computing services,” he said in his post.

Lively Interest

Despite its low-key launch, the site is being carefully watched by the private sector.

“This initial release is focused on noncritical government applications that will not be subject to the more stringent and challenging government security requirements,” Robert Ames, director and deputy CTO at IBM Federal, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Some work will need to be done to add additional vendors,” Ames said, “and also to clarify the cost of solutions and address common questions such as ‘Where will my applications reside?'”

There are other issues to be considered, he continued — ones that could have long-term ramifications.

“One caution that we voice consistently is that potential cloud users carefully consider interoperability and open standards when considering a cloud provider,” he said. “Cloud technologies are developing quickly — many with proprietary data models and interfaces. A successful move to a cloud application could be negatively impacted by proprietary vendor lock-in if careful due diligence isn’t done upfront.”

Other areas of concern have come to light. For instance, it is not clear whether prices are monthly, per user or based on some other model.

“It would be better to make it clear upfront without requiring users to find it out following the links to different products,” wrote Gartner analyst Andrea DiMaio in her blog.

Also, high-profile vendors like Salesforce.com and Google predominate.

“While this probably reflects market maturity and is meant as a stimulus to other vendors to catch up, it looks a bit weird from a public procurement perspective, as some may read this as an endorsement ofthose two vendors,” notes DiMaio.

However, Kundra mentioned that other vendors — such as Microsoft or Adobe — will soon join thestorefront, she adds.

Major Mindset Shift

Althought there may be room for improvement, Apps.Gov represents a major shift in the government’s IT mindset.

“Getting appropriate apps to where the need exists without extraneous bureaucracy will produce a huge benefit to everyone involved — the government, vendors, and even taxpayers — because the costs will be reduced,” Jim Riley, president and CEO of Learn.com, told the E-CommerceTimes.

The current enterprise/government software model is broken, he said, and protracted procurements and lengthy implementations add unnecessary costs.

Indeed, vendors will welcome a buying process that’s made easier by technology, SpringCM CEO Dan Carmel told the E-Commerce Times.

“The launch of the app store will make it easier for vendors to do business with the government by shortening the time frame to get the GSA contract in place,” he said.

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