Why cloud serves the citizen

A recent Reuters story talks of Stockton, California as the new paradigm for struggling cities.  So it seems fitting to consider cloud as the new IT paradigm for states and municipalities.   Public debt, unemployment, and taxes are big socio-economic topics not easily solved by cloud computing, but maybe more easily managed.   Cloud computing can have far reaching impact on how fast states or governments deliver services to citizens, increase the depth of services they provide, and create connections between citizens and their elected officials.    In the beginning, politicians had a negative view of cloud; it used providers/facilities outside municipal boundaries; it was decried as outsourcing jobs from local constituencies.
I’m making the argument that now is the perfect time for governments to implement cloud computing as a strategy for serving their communities, not just a cost cutting measure.  California, the most technically advanced of US states, and hardest hit by municipal bankruptcy, should be the model for cloud.   With an air of foreboding, California Lt. Governor states, “Don’t underestimate how far local, state, and federal government is behind [in computing].”    As we’ve seen today in cities like San Bernardino or Harrisburg, and nations like Greece and Ireland, politicians and IT need to wake up to their new reality.   There can be other justifications:

Effective reporting

Cities have dozens of health, education, and crime reporting requirements mandated at state or federal levels.   In some cases, failure to report carries penalties or loss of funds.   Moving new or existing services to the cloud reduces costs and improves speed of reporting.   This is not all about compute power but application need.  Consider when a new government regulation is created, dozens of SaaS firms emerge to sell offerings to support those reporting mandates.

Faster deployment

Outbreak of a virus, emergency response, or elections requires rapid collection of data and publishing of reports.   Traditional systems lack the capacity for the big data number crunching or test and development of new applications.   Public cloud services leveraging Hadoop or IaaS provide government agencies the necessary ‘sandbox’ to perform risk analysis and produce new web applications for citizens.   Against the backdrop of staffing or budget cuts, a politician needs to be seen as having their ‘Plan B’ ready.   Politicians, facing competing budgets or agendas, might consider how cloud speeds the pace of proposals or analysis they deliver to constituents.

Data transparency

Innovator Reuven Cohen’s blog states Government as a Service is the ‘ultimate social program’ bringing new levels of access, technology and transparency of information to citizens.   Each new experiment with public cloud can solve or promote never before seen findings for teacher rankings, safety, or health remediation.   Politicians and citizens have to be ready for both positive and negative findings from each experiment but an informed debate is better than the alternative.

IT budgets & buying-power

Building new applications in the cloud can serve a set of goals for governments.  There is also an opportunity for more innovative agencies to turn their cloud into revenue.  Enabling government agencies to become applications providers for others enables IT as revenue generator.   For all the doubts of government capability, there those designing new-age applications for property tax revenue forecasting, student performance predictors, or outcomes of public safety campaigns.   Taking these application ideas and selling them ‘as a service,’ to other municipalities, reduces perceived risks for buyer and provider.
Since 2010, there have been 27 municipal bankruptcy filings and more collapses are predicted.    While it’s not always simple to move applications or citizen data to different jurisdictions as is raises questions of liability, security, or privacy.  Often, agencies maintain old perceptions that their needs must be handled in a specific/siloed way.   CIOs may find it difficult to drag these agencies forward but citizens remain very demanding.
What agencies or states do you see as the trendsetters in cloud computing?

About the Author: Matthew Mikell