Can Cloud Computing Get "Army Strong"?
For most government agencies, data security is often of a top priority. When it comes to the security of our country via the military, the importance of this goal ratchets up several notches. Historically, the military has shied away from software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployments because of fears the data could fall into the wrong hands.
Looking to overcome this institutional reluctance, and give all government agencies the chance to tap into the reported benefits of cloud computing -- lower cost of ownership, faster deployments, and scalability -- Bozeman, Mont.–based customer experience vendor RightNow Technologies has unveiled a high-security offering designed for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and federal civilian agencies.
RightNow has more than 155 public-sector customers, and sales in that vertical grew by 66 percent last year, according to David Vap, the company's vice president of products. To maintain that strength, Vap says, RightNow felt a continued push toward cloud-based computing was important. Currently, 70 percent of RightNow's public-sector users are running out of the cloud, Vap says, with the remaining 30 percent running on-premises deployments.
Vap says he's confident RightNow can continue to push SaaS deeper into the public-sector vertical for two reasons. "First, the general awareness of the benefits of the cloud model, but also, the notion of transparency around government information," he says. "Our software is about making information available, and providing a service environment that enables agents to access information so they can respond correctly. Transparency is one of [the Obama] administration's new agendas.... It's being pushed hard."
Even if transparency is a point of emphasis for the Obama administration, agencies such as the DoD still have stringent security regulations to adhere to. The newest capabilities from RightNow not only include a 24x7 dedicated security and information assurance team, but also offer compliance with two key governmental standards:
- DoD Instruction 8500.2; and
- U.S. Federal security standard FISMA (NIST 800-53).
Ben Madgett, senior analyst of public-sector technology for research firm Datamonitor, notes the vertical's perpetual Catch-22: The need to keep sensitive data private is in opposition to the clarion call of transparency. Despite a belief that the notion of transparency is better-suited to constituent-facing agencies, Madgett says the concept remains important throughout government. "There's certainly a tension between the two," he says.
According to Laef Olson, chief information officer for RightNow, the company has been adapting its SaaS model for the past year in order to meet these more-stringent compliances. "It's an issue of documentation of process and procedures," he says. "There's an umbrella standard around DoD, but each agency has its own certifying authority we had to ensure we could be compliant with. In order to achieve this, we took the time to invest…and approach this in the right way."
RightNow believes that developing solutions specifically for each public-sector agency is the wrong tack. "We don't need a verticalized application for a specific agency," Vap insists. "Other vendors are focusing on this, but we see it as a barrier to the next level. There's no value in the verticalization of applications."
Madgett says RightNow's approach to the public-sector market seems to be working out thus far. "It's a question of depth versus breadth, and 'How wide do you want to be?' versus 'How deep?'," he says. "Aiming high with compliance with DoD, [RightNow is] figuring that will translate into winning business in other agencies."
Looking at the competitive landscape, Madgett calls RightNow's ability to achieve this level of compliance is good, but other companies playing in this space -- including Oracle and Salesforce.com -- are also looking to add this capability, a telling indication about the value placed on the hosted model today. "The takeaway here is that, while the government is slow to adopt, these sorts of moves from the vendor community are a positive sign for adoption further down the road," he says. "Privacy and security are key, and if you can demonstrate that you can comply with regulations, then it bodes well for you. SaaS is an attractive model in terms of cost savings, which governments have to look at more [closely]."
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