Municipal adoption of the cloud
By Pete Eichorn
Although state and federal agencies are migrating steadily to the cloud, municipal governments have been slower to jump on the trend. Cloud technology presents a challenge for municipal agencies, which often don’t know where to start, whom to ask for help, whether they need a third-party partner or whether laws and statutes even allow them to move data to the cloud.
Try before you buy
Fortunately, city and county governments don’t have to go “all in” from the beginning. The cloud is a perfect small-scale testing ground. You can try cloud-based “software as a service,” or SaaS, which allows your team to use an existing software, delivered via a Web browser, and pay for it on a usage-time basis or with a monthly fee that grants access to designated staff members.
For example, a county that wants to replace its legacy financial system to better adhere to its state’s financial reporting requirements and eliminate its long-standing manual processes might test SaaS through the cloud. The county would gain access to an existing, third-party software product that could house its data, provide real-time access to financial transactions and reports and deliver other services the municipality might not even have anticipated.
The county would have avoided a large capital outlay. The cloud-based software would automatically scale when the county expected a larger demand on its financial services software and, if the software didn’t meet the county’s needs during the test period, the county would be free to walk away and try another solution.
The security question
Data is no less secure in the cloud than on an internal server. That said, government can’t outsource responsibility for its data. A cloud provider won’t be responsible if there is a breach, so you must know what you are buying, where your data is and how it is being safeguarded. If you decide to test a cloud-based service, get the provider to disclose – and include in your contract – its terms and conditions, security limits, liabilities and responsibilities.
Your responsibilities to secure data still exist in the cloud as they do in traditional technologies. You must still comply with applicable laws and follow best practices, such as ensuring that user accounts and passwords are managed properly.
There are several kinds of clouds, and reasons you might choose one over another. Private clouds, maintained on-site, offer flexibility and control, and often are better suited when you want the cloud’s benefits and are willing to manage technology capabilities yourself. Public clouds, maintained via the internet on a cloud provider’s servers, are a good fit for accessing the latest technologies and for changing your financial management from a capital expense to an operating expense model.
Another option is hybrid cloud, which offers access to the best aspects of both public and private clouds. A hybrid cloud solution works well when you need to balance the needs of legacy systems and new, cloud capabilities.
Now is the time
More and more, software providers are moving toward offering their products and services via the cloud. Innovation will focus on SaaS, and updates and support for legacy systems will become rarer.
So now is unquestionably the time for municipal governments to commit to understanding the potential benefits and dipping their toes in the water with test projects.
Research the benefits and individual services various cloud providers offer and determine which meet your needs. If you are short on internal resources, look for a government services provider to help you navigate the options and set out a cloud adoption plan that integrates with your existing systems, security models and goals.