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Texas Wants to Be a Cloud Model for Other States

Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock.com

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The Lone Star State is leading its government agencies in a major reform effort to accelerate cloud adoption.

Many state governments face a steep learning curve as they move to adopt cloud services. They’ve heard that transitioning portions of their infrastructure and software to vendors like Amazon, IBM and Microsoft can save them money but there are still sensitive questions surrounding privacy, reliability and exactly what services are best executed in the cloud versus sticking with old models.

Texas has a long history as a leader in technological innovation with private companies such as Texas Instruments and the Lone Star State’s long involvement with NASA’s space shuttle program. Home to the nation’s third largest IT budget, Texas is leading its government agencies in a major reform effort to accelerate cloud adoption, a move designed to save money and improve services. They hope that the success of their own pilot program will provide a model for other states going through a similar transition.

“In 2011, we launched our pilot cloud program,” Texas Department of Information Resources Enterprise Contract Manager Shannon Kelley said in an interview. “Forbes said we were the first government agency to launch an initiative for cloud services.”

In the Pilot Texas Cloud Offering program, Kelley and DIR negotiated agreements with five cloud service providers working in conjunction with four state agencies to create a platform for those agencies to order services. It also helped create a blueprint of best practices for other Texas agencies that are gearing up to transition portions of their infrastructure and software services to the cloud.

From PTCO’s “Lessons Learned” document:

The PTCO allowed DIR and the pilot agencies to a gain a greater understanding of cloud infrastructure offerings for state government and document options and issues with provider selection, pricing, access security, data security, credentialing, provisioning time frames, service levels, service remedy options, terms of use, billing models, interoperability, mobility, scalability, capacity management, provider compliance, and monitoring and licensing.

One of the first agencies to take part in PTCO was the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which used cloud services to improve the VoteTexas.gov site. “We definitely are seeing successes with the agencies that are using it,” Kelley said. “The [PTCO] helped the customers have a lot of comfort as they considered what kind of data they are going to put in the cloud, cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment and total cost of ownership.”

Since completing the pilot program, Texas agencies have rapidly accelerated their adoption of cloud services. In fiscal year 2013, the state saved an estimated $275 million in taxpayer dollars through all cooperative contracts.

Government and nonprofit institutions have typically lagged behind the private sector in cloud adoption but there has been progress.

A recent National Association of State Chief Information Officers survey found that cloud adoption is growing quickly at the state level. About 20 percent of the states are “highly invested” in cloud based services, compared to just 6 percent a year ago. State governments are expected to invest $635 million in cloud services this year along.

As Kelley and others have noted, there can be heavy lifting involved in determining which specific services and cloud infrastructure an agency needs and how best to make any transition.

“The evaluation process is very lengthy; we ask more questions than we’ve ever asked before because we think it’s the most important step of the process,” Kelley said. We look at customer engagement, data hosting capability, privacy, reliability metrics and the physical location of data centers. Our goal was to have a variety of vendors and a variety of services.”

For any state government, but particularly a large entity like Texas, working with a cloud vendor that provides secure data storage is essential. Most large vendors create multiple copies of client data, which are then stored in at least two physical locations. That way, if a storage facility in Virginia temporarily goes down, clients and their customers will still be able to access data and services.

The success of PTCO has put Texas in a leadership position with other states such as California—the first state to offer a broad cloud services program—that are pioneering smart approaches to cloud adoption for major government agencies. This summer, Texas authored a “Best Practices For the Cloud” featured at the Center for Digital Government's annual summit.

With its new services platform in place, 5,000 eligible Texas government and other state entities can purchase Amazon Web Services directly through a pay-as-you-go model.

“We’ve really pushed the boundaries of state government,” Kelley said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Shannon Kelley's last name and clarify information about taxpayer cost savings in fiscal year 2013.

(Photo by Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock.com)