Connecting state and local government leaders

Is the Cloud in Your Agency’s Future? Ask These 5 Questions First

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, California

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Outcomes, clouds, security, services, and starting points all require consideration.

Getting ready to ascend into the clouds, a pilot conducts thorough pre-flight checks to make sure the plane will operate safely and get its passengers to the desired destination. Government agencies thinking of moving data into the cloud need to be just as careful before initiating takeoff.

Government leaders have heard over and over that they can save money, develop solutions faster and get more flexibility by migrating services and data to the cloud. Those promised benefits have generated cloud computing buzz at all levels of government, especially since 2010, when it was announced that federal agencies would adopt a cloud-first technology strategy.

Half a decade later, though, the transition to the cloud is progressing slowly. Decision-makers often are not sure how to get into the cloud, for starters. And security is a concern, as well as how to achieve the goals pushing them toward the cloud in the first place.

The Promise of the Cloud

The cloud does, indeed, hold promise for making state and local agencies more nimble and efficient–as long as government leaders have asked the right questions before they transition to cloud computing.

Five key questions are:

1. What outcomes do we want to achieve?

Like any new project, you will not know if you have been successful unless you define success from the beginning. For the cloud to be an effective tool, your agency needs a clear vision of how it wants to provide services over the long term, what levels of agility and transparency should be built into those services and how much ability you will have to innovate within the services. Having clarified those items, you will have a template for evaluating potential cloud providers.

2. Which cloud is the right cloud?

There are four types of clouds: private, typically an on-premises cloud an agency runs using proprietary architecture; public, in which an agency’s services are maintained over the internet on another entity’s servers; hybrid, which gives an agency access to both public and private clouds from multiple providers; and government, in which government agencies with similar security, legal and compliance needs–and special clearance–can share cloud infrastructures.

Two main factors drive the choice of the “right” cloud option:

  • Agency applications or services with huge elasticity needs–for instance, a hunting license application that experiences extremely high use during a short period just before hunting season opens–are good candidates for the cloud, which allows for quick scale-ups and scale-downs.
  • Data classification, which determines the sensitivity level of an agency’s data. Regulated or confidential data might need to be placed in a private cloud, which offers the greatest level of control and security. Classified correctly, most data can go into some type of cloud.

Cloud capabilities influence the choice of cloud, as well. Decisions on infrastructure (the hardware powering a cloud) and platform (tools and services that simplify coding and application deployment) capabilities will change how the agencies build and support their own technology applications on the cloud. Software capabilities (e.g., applications like cloud-based email or active directory services) are licensed from the provider and utilize the cloud for their infrastructure.

3. Will our agency’s information be secure?

Migration to the cloud raises a host of security considerations, and government needs to understand and address them before the move is complete. After your data is accurately classified, work with your cloud provider to lock it down to a level constituents need for their protection, complying with the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, other federal regulations and your state legislature’s security requirements.

Cloud providers offer data protection tools but take little to no liability if there’s a security breach. Therefore, it’s critical to partner with the provider to make your data as secure as possible. Cloud security companies, app creation groups and the CISA requirements can help you determine whether your provider’s tools will adequately secure your data.

4. Will moving to the cloud help us better provide constituent services?

It certainly can, but at the moment citizens who need to renew their driver’s licenses, pay their property taxes or interact with government for some other purpose simply want the service to be available and working well. So the decision about whether or not the cloud will help serve constituents better should be based on how well you can protect citizen data and whether the cloud helps you provide services more efficiently and when constituents need it.

5. Where should we start?

Consider moving a small computer application to the cloud. If you do this at a time you are upgrading the application, you can both rethink the application for the cloud as part of its regular lifecycle and test its performance in the cloud in a relatively low-risk situation.

After you’ve proven out the cloud’s benefits, look for other services that could deliver “wow factor” for constituents. For example, language recognition software, which allows users to interact with government agencies using the spoken word, operates especially well in the cloud and demonstrates the art of what’s possible in the cloud.

Ready for takeoff into the cloud? Conduct thorough pre-flight checks by asking the right questions, and then fire up the engines.

Jeff Shaw is vice president of IT for Olathe, Kansas-based NIC Inc

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