January 28, 2013, 10:43 AM — High among the barriers to the adoption of cloud computing in the government sector, right alongside concerns over security and cross-border issues, is a general confusion about what, exactly, the cloud means, according to a group of panelists speaking here at the annual State of the Net technology policy conference.
"Cloud is well-defined," says Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the software trade group BSA. "But cloud is not well understood among policymakers."
Cloud computing has been a hot topic among federal CIOs and their staffers in recent years, and the Obama administration has promulgated a so-called cloud-first policy, directing agencies to prioritize cloud-based solutions as they roll out new IT initiatives.
But for the cloud to be broadly understood as more than a buzzword outside of IT circles, advocates of the technology should focus on the benefits that cloud computing can provide, particularly for cash-strapped government agencies working under shrinking budgets.
"It's important that we start with mission areas that are affected by cloud, as opposed to technology, because at the end of the day it's how cloud can ... be more efficient to help in different types of mission areas both for the government and for society," says Dan Chenok, executive director of IBM's Center for the Business of Government.
Healthcare Particularly Leery of the Cloud
Other panelists described the lingering reservations about shifting to the cloud that many industry leaders continue to harbor. In healthcare, for instance, there is a "high degree of misinformation about what cloud is and what it isn't," according to Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington digital rights group.
Slideshow: Top Challenges Facing Healthcare CIOs
McGraw explains that healthcare providers, generally, are behind the curve when it comes to adoption of cloud computing, in part because of a widespread confusion about what information under law is permitted to reside in off-site data centers.
"Healthcare also has an issue of uncertainty and this issue of control," McGraw says. "I think it's a very scary proposition for a lot of healthcare providers to think about having their data management functions not within their four walls. They're responsible for that data, they know that, and the idea that they would cede that, some portion of that, to somebody else and yet still be liable for those decisions is very scary."