Opinion: Cloud computing’s early success shows innovation in state government

Last month at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley offices in Mountain View, the TechAmerica Foundation held a press event where they released a Cloud Computing report entitled “The Cloud Imperative” focusing on best practices in Cloud computing for state and local governments. The report found that Cloud computing presents opportunities for governments to modernize, streamline delivery of public services and improve cost efficiency. Among other state officials, California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom and state CIO Carlos Ramos participated and emphasized the potential benefits of Cloud computing.

The timing of this event coincided with the recent “migration” of  3,500 state e-mail boxes at the Department of General services (DGS) to the Cloud. This was the first large State Department to migrate to the California Email Service (CES), a Cloud software solution.  CES is one of two email solutions available to the Executive Branch departments pursuant to AB 2408 legislation of 2010.  Since AB 2408 was enacted, ninety percent of all state departments have elected to use CES for their departmental e-mail service.

AB 2408 consolidated state information technology functions under the Office of the State Chief  Information Officer and required all executive branch state departments under the Governor’s control to consolidate e-mail systems, servers and networks to reduce redundancy, save energy and streamline delivery of IT services.

The legislation requires the consolidation of 130 separate e-mail systems, all with their own hardware, software licenses and maintenance requirements into just two systems: CA MAIL offered by the State Office of Technology Services and CES offered by a private Cloud vendor (CSC) utilizing the Microsoft Exchange platform. It took one year to build the service for the state and some departments have more pre-migration planning and remedial work to do in order to consume the service, but the recent successful migration of 3,500 e-mail boxes at DGS to the Cloud is a major milestone in the implementation of AB 2408.

“We  support the vision in the state’s 2012 IT Strategic Plan and the recent DGS migration to CES has demonstrated the promise cloud computing offers,” noted Andrew Armani, Agency Information Officer of the California State and Consumer Services Agency.

Several smaller departments have also migrated to CES including the Contractor State Licensing and Medical Boards which were the first organizations to use the Cloud service. When fully implemented, 66 state departments and over 100,000 state mail boxes will utilize CES for email, making it one of the largest Cloud email systems in government today.

The long-term benefits of  Cloud e-mail include the reduction of significant state costs for, among other things, the maintenance of unused mailboxes for contingency needs, the maintenance of hardware and software licenses, and the capital expenditures required for equipment replacement and software upgrades. A greatly reduced IT foot print  will significantly lower energy costs and space requirements. Furthermore, State employees will have access to state of the art eDiscovery, archiving, and collaboration tools facilitating better cross departmental communication all under the same ‘per user per month‘ payment plan.

State departments  will have dedicated support 24/7 365 days a year, which is a direct result of consolidating 130 unique email systems into two systems running the same email platform. Under Cloud e-mail consolidation, Governor Brown can easily communicate with all state employees via e-mail. This type of comprehensive communication is difficult and somewhat ’hit and miss’ with the current diverse 130 e-mail systems and was a source of great frustration with previous Governors.

Future progress and the velocity of migration of state departments to Cloud e-mail depends on effective executive leadership and effective change management.  The move to Cloud computing  is about people as much as technology.  Worker feelings, beliefs, and attitudes about the change must be managed. However, its clear that to achieve the full benefits anticipated under AB 2408, Cloud computing must be a critical component of the overall IT structure of the State. 

The Federal Government has recognized that fact by instituting a ‘Cloud first‘ initiative that instructs all federal agencies to first look at a Cloud computing solution when considering any new IT application.  The Brown Administration should continue to press on with the consolidation activities mandated by AB 2408 as quickly as possible in order to get the better levels of service and recognize the significant cost savings that will result once the law is fully implemented.

While it is true that in some cases state funds must be expended up front to upgrade certain IT environments in order to migrate to the Cloud, in many cases these upgrades are necessary anyway to bring the overall IT structure of the State up to a minimum standard necessary to take advantage of today’s mobile workforce and the technologies necessary to effectively support them.

State government should not let the inertia of living with legacy IT systems and organizations stand in the way of real progress.  Continuous change is the order of the day for government organizations facing tight budgets and expanding responsibilities.  State government needs to adopt that mind set and continue to modernize its IT infrastructure to adapt to the ever changing needs of today’s modern government workforce. 

While definitely not the last word on Cloud computing in state and local government,  the TechAmerica Foundation report does mark the start of an on-going public/private dialogue. It helps us understand the potential benefits of Cloud computing, related best practices and better ways leverage existing public IT assets. California Government IT has a bright future as long as it embraces change, lets go of antiquated legacy systems in a timely manner and embraces the most cost effective technologies available today for the delivery of public services and information. When combined with the need to reduce overall operating costs in tight budget environments, Cloud technology innovation in state government cannot come soon enough.

Ed’s Note: Tom Sheehy is the former Chief Deputy Director of Finance and Acting Secretary / Undersecretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He joined Greenberg Traurig’s Sacramento government affairs practice in October 2010.

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