Several days ago I wrote a post in response to the successful South Carolina cyber-attack (that earlier post can be found here). Although the security benefits alone are enough to justify starting the move to the cloud, there are numerous other cost-saving and productivity improving reasons for state and local governments to consider making the move.
Lower Costs, Higher Revenues
Migrating computing to the cloud means reducing the number of servers in public sector data centers. That translates into lower costs for server hardware and lower costs for hardware upgrades and maintenance. It also translates into lower real estate costs for maintaining these data centers (which can be quite costly given the specialized type of real estate that is required and the need to harden the area where servers are physically hosted). That real estate can then be put to use for different public purposes or can even be sold to the private sector to raise revenues.
Fewer on premise computing resources also means greener government. The power consumed to run servers and associated cooling systems and redundant power backups can consume a significant amount of energy. Although cloud computing will still consume energy, cloud companies are motivated to optimize their expenses and can do so across a very large number of clients – thus lowering the total cost for each client. The cloud not only promises to optimize energy costs for our government, but by doing so it will also reduce the overall environmental impact that our government computing centers have.
Improved Public Servant Productivity
Cloud computing will also deliver more uptime, efficiency and productivity to our government. When there is a problem with a computer application, government IT departments have to prioritize the issue relative to their overall workload. If an application is running slow, it may take many months to prioritize a resolution. If an application is offline, it may take hours to get it up and running and get everyone productive again. Conversely, in a cloud data center, if an application is slow (or down) for one client, then it is likely performing in the same manner for hundreds of clients. Cloud computing companies will place a very high priority on remedying these situations quickly because they recognize that contracts will not be renewed (or may even be canceled) if they cannot meet service level commitments. This is similar to how electrical companies prioritize power-outages – it is there problem to prevent these and to quickly resolve them when they arise.
Modern Applications at a Lower Cost
Government software applications are aging. Many current public sector applications were developed for older versions of Windows, and some are even still using green-screen applications. A walk through government offices will reveal that many are still using versions of Windows and Office that are more than 8 years old. Software hosted in the cloud, on the other hand, is updated regularly and at no additional cost. The result is set of desktop applications such as Office 365 that are always up-to-date and include the latest productivity boosting features.
Along with the cloud is a new set of rapid application development platforms – enabling government departments to quickly modernize legacy applications and to roll out new applications. Our experience is that platforms like Microsoft SharePoint, Salesforce.com and Dynamics CRM can replace 85%-95% of the functionality in legacy applications without having to write any code; and code can quickly be developed to replace the remaining functionality gaps. Because these applications can be customized without writing code, they can be maintained and improved at a fraction of the cost and time required by legacy applications and development languages. The result is a much lower cost for application developers, while significantly improving user productivity.
The last benefit for this post is difficult to quantify: organizational focus. Private sector businesses report that by reducing the amount of time they have to spend managing IT, they increase the amount of focus that they can give to their core business – thus improving productivity and profitability. Public sector organizations will realize the same benefit. State and local government must focus on a myriad of roles and departments such as business and economic development, citizen relationships and services, business environmental and health inspections, health and human services, grant management and monitoring, and many others. By removing the need to directly provide IT services to each of these departments, governments can unleash the productivity of their managers and their public servants.
The introduction of new technologies has always expanded the ability of our state and local governments to manage the changing needs of citizens and businesses. Cloud computing promises to further accelerate the capabilities of our government while reducing technology costs.