Best Practices for Secure Data Migration for Government Organizations

Unique Requirements for Government Migrations

At first glance, migrating a government agency may seem similar to migrating data from any other private company. However, with the stricter compliance requirements, the repercussions are very different if something goes wrong.

Microsoft has a cloud environment dedicated to the government, the Government Community Cloud (GCC), where it migrates government customers. It includes data centers that are only located in the continental United States because data sovereignty is of utmost importance and data cannot leave the country of origin. Microsoft also offers a GCC High cloud environment, which meets the strictest cybersecurity and compliance requirements. It was created to meet the needs of DOD and federal contractors. GCC High exists in its own sovereign environment.

Moreover, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program is a cybersecurity risk management program to support decision-making regarding cloud products and services purchased and used by these agencies. FedRAMP provides a standardized approach to cloud security and is an important resource for government IT managers planning cloud migrations.

Undertaking a migration to the cloud is a complex process. Unless the IT staff has extensive experience with these projects, it may be a good idea to leverage the help of a migration service provider to partner on the project. Before selecting a service provider, ensure that the provider of your choice is authorized to purchase GCC licenses for government projects. Additionally, all service provider personnel who will be working on the project must be vetted and authorized, as they are subject to background checks, including citizenship, employment history, criminal history and more.

DIVE DEEPER: How can the cloud accelerate the deployment of digital government services?

How migration varies between different levels of government

An additional layer of complexity around government migrations is that there is a wide disparity in IT between each state and local government agency. Different cities and branches of local government have their own unique approach to managing the needs around their IT services, with GCC needs varying from agency to agency.

Generally, local governments manage themselves, while federal governments are bound by federal guidelines, with all audit or assessment processes conducted at the federal level. In some cities, the IT department takes care of local police, fire, and ambulance services, while in others these areas are handled by federal oversight.

Due to the nature of how local governments operate, it’s important that IT managers fully understand the unique requirements and guidelines of their specific agencies, even if they’ve been involved in other government cloud migrations. There may be critical differences.

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Best practices to adopt for data migrations

When architecting a migration, 80% of the work is preparation and planning. When properly prepared, the execution of the migration itself becomes seamless.

An important step is to determine what data needs to be moved. A migration can be a good opportunity to clean up; eliminating unnecessary data can reduce cloud costs. Also consider the ideal order of migration. Some organizations will determine that a phased approach best suits their needs, such as starting with mailboxes and following with other data sets, although this may add complexity to the project.

As many organizations continue to work remotely during the pandemic, bandwidth considerations are important to consider. Schedule the migration to take place at night or on weekends when off-peak hours can mean a quick migration with minimal impact or interference for end users.

When hiring a partner to help with a cloud migration, it is important to develop an RFP that will detail the project requirements and responsibilities.

The internal IT team should be closely aligned with the partner team. Make sure the RFP clearly outlines compliance and security requirements to help ensure the partner is ready to execute a smooth and compliant migration.

Confirm that all team members are properly vetted and cleared to work on the project and that all appropriate FedRAMP certifications are obtained. All tools used for the project must also meet the necessary compliance requirements.

TO EXPLORE: What does it mean for a state government to be cloud smart?

Realize a clear change management strategy

An effective change management strategy is another important aspect of a successful cloud migration. Make sure communication is clear and employees understand the purpose of the migration so they can quickly adapt to changes. Also, be sure to implement effective training for employees to ensure that they can learn the new processes and protocols and that there is no loss of productivity.

End users must be informed of everything they need to do to be in compliance. For example, if multi-factor authentication is implemented, be proactive in communicating the necessary processes around MFA to end users.

IT managers must also fully accept that moving to the cloud requires changes to their normal processes and procedures. Ensure that the IT team is part of the change management strategy and that everyone involved understands and adheres to new protocols. What worked before the migration is probably no longer good enough.

While the workings of a government migration may resemble those of a private company, the truth is that a government project is a much longer undertaking. It can be tempting to try to speed up the process, but it’s essential not to deviate from established processes and protocols to expedite project completion. Performing a poorly planned and rushed migration will lead to problems, extra work, and wasted time later.

Migration projects are not easy, especially those involving highly sensitive data that must be protected and layers of regulations that must be adhered to. Fortunately, best practices can be applied to migrating such projects within government organizations.

By being proactive, taking the necessary steps to plan, and ensuring users are prepared, IT managers can ensure that data remains secure and the project is a success.

Sean N. Ayres