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Gov 2.0 Summit: Labor CFO Discusses Cloud Pitfalls

If the Department of Labor had to move its financial systems to the cloud all over again, it would plan better, says the agency's CFO.

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Speaking at the Gov 2.0 Summit Wednesday, Department of Labor CFO James Taylor had a word to the wise for federal agencies -- and any other organization, for that matter -- planning to move their financial systems to the cloud: plan adequately.

The Gov 2.0 Summit, produced by O'Reilly and UBM TechWeb, is being held at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.

In January, the agency moved its financial systems from a 20-year-old, poorly integrated piece of software that didn’t talk to other systems to a shared service managed and operated by GCE. Implementation took 18 months, including a three-month delay toward the end of 2009, Taylor said. While shorter than the typical deployment cycle for a major financial system, the changes the system entailed for the agency's business processes made it longer than a typical cloud deployment cycle.

Over the long run, Taylor said, the GCE service will enable the Department of Labor to "dramatically" change, streamline and standardize agency business processes across the agency, which Taylor characterized as a "very, very decentralized agency." In addition, the cloud has stopped the agency from having to do all the operations and maintenance on its financial system, which adds up to long-term cost savings.

However, over the shorter run, Taylor said, the change from older on premises systems to GCE has posed numerous challenges. "The issues aren’t really created by the shared services, but we really didn’t see ahead in terms of requirements and how big the change would be," he said. "Everybody talks about best practices, and we do call around, but what we didn't do well, is we didn't study other use cases to see if other agencies and customers have the same issues and how they tackled them."

Instead of walking invoices across departments, for example, the invoice process is now entirely automated. "Those types of changes have been the hardest in terms of getting everything to work in the last eight months," Taylor said.

With new, more powerful financial systems at its fingertips, the CFO is also enforcing rules that certain other systems don't always enforce, causing business process problems in places like procurement.

Many were unprepared for the changes, Taylor said, because they were skeptical of the agency's ability to pull the upgrade off, given a $35 million failure several years ago as well as the three-month delay. Therefore, at launch, the agency had to set up training rooms to show employees how to do things like process vouchers and contracts. "We had a huge effort in trying to catch up," he said. Patches made to systems integrated with the GCE system have also played havoc with GCE's own system. For example, Taylor noted changes made to the agency's procurement system over a weekend that didn't sit well with a subsection of employees.