Why cloud services make sense for cities large and small

Wed, 2014-10-01 06:00 -- SCC Staff

Often people think of "the cloud" as a massive data repository somewhere online where email and documents are stored for easy access. But the cloud is much more than that, and government agencies around the world are finding the cloud can help them provide better services at lower cost.

Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers to store, manage and process data. Typically those servers are accessed via the Internet.

Large cities with deep resources and IT personnel may choose to build and operate their own cloud services. But the cloud can also be delivered as a service from a third party, which allows smaller cities to get a lot of technology for a small investment. For example, Council Associate Partner Imex Systems notes its on-premise and cloud solutions for citizen service delivery, online and mobile payments and citizen communications can "help every government from a small township to a large federal government, whether it is an advanced economy or an emerging country."

Move to the cloud is intensifying
Today’s cloud offerings include everything from open data efforts to apps that immediately route citizen feedback to the department that can act on it. For instance, Imex Systems created an app residents of King Township in Ontario, Canada can use to conveniently access information on waste and recycling as well as local news and events. They can also use the King-miCity app to submit service requests to the city; it is fully integrated in real time with city business applications and the township's online portal.

And the number of cloud services for cities and other government entities has grown exponentially over the past few years – even though some reports indicate agencies are slow to adopt them.  Yet others, as this Forbes report indicates, expect cloud migration efforts will pick up, largely based on the success of open data projects and the private-sector innovation they have spurred in cities around the world. (For more on city open data projects, download the Council's new Smart Cities Open Data Guide, which is free to registered SCC members. Learn how you can register right now. )

Cloud benefits for cities
Websites are notoriously difficult to maintain, and cloud services give cities a platform to easily maintain their sites while adding advanced features that would be prohibitively costly to build from scratch one at a time.

SCC Associate Partner Oracle has been helping government agencies use the cloud to offer or dramatically improve the self-service options offered on their websites.

The Illinois Department of Revenue used Oracle Service Cloud to provide online services that can handle hundreds of the most common requests the agency gets. Citizens are able to take care of what they need without having to work with a staff member. In fact, the number of email requests for help has dropped by more than 80% since the system went live. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is also using the system, says the number of people who are able to help themselves online has reached 98%.

While the cost savings are significant – the Illinois Department of Revenue system paid for itself in six months – the technology also improves service. People can get help when they need it, any time of the day. They don’t have to wait for the agency to be open or for a representative to be available.

Another example is Tongliao City in Inner Mongolia, which is utilizing Council Lead Partner IBM's cloud computing, networking and other advanced information technologies to enable local industries to move to cloud computing. Tongliao City wants to encourage innovation and transform its industries, helping to stimulate economic growth in the region. It is using IBM PureSystems as the core platform for cloud computing as part of the project.

Economic stimulus was also important to the city of Busan, South Korea which had long relied on heavy industry, but wanted to create job opportunities for its college graduates and retain a high-quality workforce. Working with Council Lead Partner Cisco's Smart+Connected Communities solution and public cloud infrastructure, Busan has found a way to stimulate job creation and business growth.

And when the French government wanted to simplify the way citizens interact with it, officials turned to Council Associate Partner Alphinat, which used its SmartGuide solution to create an "online services factory" that delivers cross-agency online services that focus on the needs of French citizens and municipalities. SmartGuide is a leading “one stop” web, mobile and cloud solution development platform that enable cities to easily create, deploy and manage intelligent personalized web applications.

Saving money by modernizing outdated technology
The process of moving to the cloud has also helped some governments dramatically cut their IT expenses. It’s not unusual for various city departments to each have their own systems and ways of doing things. Migrating to the cloud makes it easier for those departments to share information and work together and often reduce overall expenses.

For example, it was announced this summer that Los Angeles County's 100,000 employees –- including approximately 20,000 law enforcement personnel -- will transition to Office 365 cloud services from Council Lead Partner Microsoft. “The county is constantly looking at opportunities to manage cost and improve service,” said Richard Sanchez, chief information officer for Los Angeles County. “Office 365 enables us to best manage our licenses, provide greater services to all 30-plus departments and control cost."

And since migrating to SunGard Public Sector's Horizon Cloud, the city of Oveido, Florida has maximized the capabilities and effectiveness of its three-person IT staff. “They do not have the availability to maintain all the changes in technology and troubleshooting that has to be done internally,” said Jerry Boop, the city's Finance/IT Director.  With Horizon,  he said, IT staff “doesn’t have to upload new software releases, worry about backups, system maintenance or performance issues.” The switch to the government cloud solution from Council Associate Partner SunGard Public Sector has also resulted in cost savings.

A new guide and infographic from eRepublic's Center for Digital Government provides model contract language and recommendations to help government agencies that want to buy cloud-based services. You can get both here.

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Thinking of moving to the cloud or trying to decide if the cloud is right for you? The Smart Cities Readiness Guide contains valuable resources for cities large and small. (The Guide is premium content offered free to registered members of SCC. Learn how you can become a member.)