ACCENT Makes Room for Innovation
As U.S. Army and other Defense Department end users employ cloud services more and more through the ACCENT contract vehicle, they will have an army of approved contractors standing by to assist them, with each company trying to make its mark and win business.
The Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) conducts the on-ramping qualification process for companies to be ACCENT cloud service providers. Once approved by the PEO EIS, the companies remain for the duration of the contract; the Army intends to have an annual open window for companies to apply.
Having this yearly on-ramp opportunity not only allows new cloud service providers to join the ACCENT marketplace but also provides an incentive for companies on the contract to stay competitive. This multiprovider approach to cloud will help drive innovation, says Doug Sickler, vice president of business development at Technica Corp. The Dulles, Virginia-based business, which is serving cloud customers such as the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the FBI and the U.S. Air Force, was one of 18 companies recently added to the ACCENT contract.
“When they awarded the contract, the Army acknowledged that there would be new cloud service providers and other players coming into the market, coming in with new capabilities and innovations, and that they were planning for an onboarding every year,” Sickler says. “It is really what we would call a hunting license. It qualifies us as a viable provider and gives us the contract vehicle to use. Then it is really up to us to make sure that the end users and owners know who we are and what our ability is to help them.”
Additionally, the Army understands that having access to the cloud is only one part of the equation, Sickler notes. The ACCENT contract vehicle supports the service’s application modernization, transformation and migration to the cloud—both for commercial options and Army cloud environments.
“A lot of the applications, especially the older applications that are in sustainment mode, may not have current contracting support or even any kind of government developer support needed to move to the cloud,” he warns. “So this vehicle gives Army application owners access to the expertise of multiple companies that are pre-vetted that can provide those services.”
This support is crucial, Sickler says, as the Defense Department has a lot of applications that run in mainframe environments and are written in legacy code. And while some of the older applications can run in x86 processor environments and still move to the cloud, this requires a little more technical knowledge and care in migration, he says. The key is for cloud service providers to see how to adapt the applications to a cloud environment in a way that does not break the functionality that has been there for years and years.
“There are thousands of applications that may be used by only one command or a smaller installation,” Sickler notes. “It’s at the installation level where things like that are critical to the local processes and executing the unit’s mission but aren’t as well-documented or easily migratable.”
The ACCENT effort includes deciding that some applications should not move to the cloud, Sickler acknowledges. The Army could choose to retire some and instead buy them as software as a service in the cloud. As such, the scope of services under ACCENT includes portfolio rationalization, modernization and transformation, including retiring and replacing applications. Because of the Defense Department’s unique culture, cloud companies need to work with customers to make sure that they understand where their applications are going and how they will manage them and assure them that they won’t lose control, capabilities or security in their environment, Sickler stresses.
Another feature of ACCENT is that it offers end users access to cloud services from adroit small businesses—21 now on the contract may be able to provide personalized services, flexibility and innovation. Bill Williams, managing partner and CEO of Interactive Process Technology LLC (IPT), a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, purports that the Billerica, Massachusetts, company not only understands the intricacies of moving workloads to the cloud but also the nuances related to Defense Department cloud offerings. IPT’s cloud services include agile transformation, application development and refactoring, customer onboarding, risk management framework control inheritance, development operations, and working with the cloud access point and cybersecurity service providers, according to the company.
“IPT is enabling Department of Defense cloud transformations by offering a multitude of service capabilities that include Microsoft, Akamai and Amazon cloud competencies,” Williams says. “This Department of Defense-wide contract vehicle empowers IPT’s broad array of customers to access our extensive cloud enablement services in a straightforward and convenient way.”
Another small-business executive, Sangita Subramanian, vice president of OM Group Inc. in Reston, Virginia, says ACCENT is unique in providing “high-quality, pre-vetted businesses that offer a wide range of services, which provide [end users] a robust competitive pool to choose from.” OM Group was awarded the first task order for ACCENT and is now migrating about 80 applications and systems for the Department of the Army Headquarters, which is moving a Joint Service Provider-hosted data center at the Pentagon to Microsoft Azure.
“As the first major cloud migration initiative for this office, OM Group is breaking new ground,” she says. “In addition to the technical task of migrating customer applications to the cloud, we are educating system owners on the benefits and capabilities of the cloud and helping them break out of the data center-centric mindset.”