Mar 08 2021

Best Practices for Secure Data Migration for Government Organizations

Find out how IT professionals can ensure success and maintain compliance for high-stakes projects.

Migrating organizations to the cloud is a complicated, challenging endeavor. It often involves months of planning to sort and identify data to move from a pool that can go back years, if not decades. It is a process that only grows more complicated when migrating organizations with highly sensitive data, such as government agencies, with a host of stringent compliance regulations to meet.

However, the cloud offers many benefits, including heightened security protection for its tenants. With the rise of remote work in response to the coronavirus pandemic, cloud computing has become even more essential to maintaining business continuity and operational consistency.

Government agencies have taken note. Look no further than the Defense Department, which in June 2021 plans to move data for more than 1 million users from its own virtual work environment to a Microsoft 365 U.S. Government DOD cloud environment.

For any government agency, be it federal, state or local, the large volume of sensitive data that must be protected during the migration process raises the stakes of the project considerably. The good news is that despite the complex challenges, there are best practices that IT managers can adopt to ensure success.

Unique Requirements for Government Migrations

On the surface, migrating a government agency may seem similar to migrating data for any other private company. However, with the stricter compliance requirements involved, the repercussions are vastly different if something goes wrong.

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

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

Undertaking a cloud migration is a complex process. Unless IT staff have ample experience with these projects, it can be wise to leverage the help of a migration service provider to partner on the project. Before selecting a service provider, make sure the vendor of choice is approved to purchase GCC licenses for government projects. Also, all of the service provider’s staff who will work on the project must be vetted and authorized, as they are subject to background checks including citizenship, work history, criminal history and more.

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

How Migrations Vary Between Different Tiers of Government

An added layer of complexity around government migrations is that there is much disparity in IT across every state and local government body. Different cities and branches of local government have their own unique approach to managing the needs around their IT departments, with GCC needs varying from one agency to another.

Generally, local governments manage themselves, while federal governments are bound to federal guidelines, with any audits or evaluation processes conducted at a federal level. In some cities, the IT department looks after the local police force, fire department and ambulance services, while in others, these areas are managed by federal oversight.

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

READ MORE: How can Integration Platform as a Service aid state and local governments?

Best Practices to Adopt for Data Migrations

When architecting a migration, 80 percent of the work is preparation and planning. When prepped correctly, executing 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 house; eliminating unneeded data can keep cloud costs down. Also, consider the ideal order of the migration. Some organizations will determine that a phased approach best suits their needs, such as starting with mailboxes and following with other data sets, though this can add complexity to the project.

As many organizations are continuing to work remotely during the pandemic, bandwidth considerations are important to consider. Plan the migration to take place overnight or on weekends when off-peak hours can mean a swift migration with minimal impact or interference to end users.

When hiring a partner to assist with a cloud migration, it’s important to develop an request for proposals that will thoroughly outline the project requirements and responsibilities.

The internal IT team must be closely aligned with the partner team. Be sure that the RFP clearly outlines the compliance and security requirements to help ensure the partner is prepared to execute a smooth, compliant migration.

Confirm that all team members are appropriately vetted and authorized to work on the project and that all the proper FedRAMP certifications are secured. All tools used for the project must also meet the necessary compliance requirements.

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

Carry Out 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 that employees understand the goal of the migration so they can get on board with the changes quickly. Also, make sure to implement effective training for employees to ensure that they can grasp new processes and protocols and that there is no loss in productivity.

End users must be made aware of everything that they need to do to be compliant. For instance, if multifactor authentication is being implemented, be proactive about communicating the necessary processes around MFA to end users.

IT managers must also fully embrace the fact that moving to the cloud requires changes to their normal processes and procedures. Make sure the IT team is a part of the change management strategy and that everyone involved understands and adheres to new protocols. What worked before the migration is likely no longer sufficient.

While the nuts and bolts of a government migration may be like that of a private company, the truth is a government project is a much lengthier endeavor. It may be tempting to try to speed up the process, but it’s critical not to deviate from the established processes and protocols to accelerate project completion. Executing a poorly planned, rushed migration will result in problems, extra work and lost time later.

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

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

kanawatvector/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT