Luring Government IT to the Cloud

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-02-24

Luring Government IT to the Cloud

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's IT department had a problem after creating a 4,500-page Web site that was less than the sum of its parts. The City of Seattle's network was unable to successfully screen out spam. The District of Columbia's network was, well, simply dysfunctional.

All three government agencies ultimately turned to the cloud for solutions, joining dozens of other state and local agencies embracing SAAS (software as a service) to reduce costs and improve citizen service. While the federal government has been reluctant to join the cloud, local governments are rushing there, proving there are options for cash-strapped agencies saddled with legacy software and hardware.

Federal agencies are "wary of putting data on the Internet," Dan Burton,'s senior vice president of global public policy, told eWEEK. "They're just now awakening up to this potential."

Here's a look at some of the nation's successful cloud deployments by state and local governments and, yes, even some federal agencies.

U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau needed to coordinate and track partnership activities between the Census Bureau and outside organizations including state and local governments, community-based organizations, businesses, and nonprofits in the two-year run-up to the 2010 decennial census. In addition, the Census Bureau planned to assemble a geographically dispersed temporary work force in the thousands to enter and manage contacts.

Adding to the challenge, the Census Bureau had a hard go-live date that required a 12-week implementation for the first phase of users.

The bureau turned to and Acumen Solutions, which implemented the Integrated Partner Contact Database project requiring no installations or plug-ins be downloaded to staff PCs. The solution allowed the Census Bureau to avoid coordination of a complex and costly software rollout to remote staff.

By using a SAAS application, the Census Bureau was able to purchase and deploy a solution for a limited period of time without having to invest a far greater amount of funding in a client-server based solution that it would only be using in mass quantities for 24 to 48 months.

Other federal clients include NASA, the Department of State, the U.S. Army and the Treasury Department.

Defense Information Systems Agency

The idea was for government customers to pay for computing and storage capacity on an as-needed basis instead of having to invest in new hardware and software. DISA introduced RACE (Rapid Access Computing Environment), in which Department of Defense users go to a Web-based portal and provision their own operating environments based on standard Department of Defense architecture. RACE contractors include Hewlett-Packard, Apptis, Sun Microsystems and Vion.

SAAS Implementations in 5 Cities

N.Y. Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The MTA created a 4,500-page Web site that failed to meet users' needs. Call volume remained high, primarily because there was no available e-mail address. Even if the MTA had included an e-mail address on the site, the agency did not have the capacity or manpower to deal with citizen questions and input.

After an extensive review process, the MTA selected RightNow Technologies' hosted on-demand CRM software solutions to correct the situation. RightNow began with a 20-question knowledge base and added e-mail management tools and site analytics. RightNow's solution allowed the MTA to implement the technology across multiple locations.

Deployment went smoothly and didn't place any additional burdens on the MTA's already overloaded IT department. More importantly, call volume fell and traffic rose at the site.

Washington, D.C.

There's a reason why Vivek Kundra, the District of Columbia's CTO, is on President Obama's short list to become the White House CTO. In June of 2008, Kundra turned the District toward cloud computing as a cost-effective collaboration platform that can be implemented quickly and scaled to meet a broad range of government needs.

One of Kundra's first moves was to migrate the District's 38,000 employees from Microsoft Office tools to Google Apps. The District uses a number of Google tools, including Google Enterprise, which includes personal Web sites, e-mail and the Google Applications suite of productivity tools. The District also employs Google search appliances to index and search everything on the city's intranet.

The deal was small change for Google, but a major step forward for the District of Columbia and, perhaps, even for Kundra.

City of Chicago

The City of Chicago couldn't account for itself: Outside counsel law firms did not have easy online access to Chicago's billing guidelines for quick validation of invoices being submitted correctly the first time. In addition, Chicago was not receiving consistent invoicing formats across all billings and firms did not have easy access to payment status.

Chicago went to the cloud for help, hiring LexisNexis to implement the LegalPrecision application. After training and setting up billing guidelines, advanced reporting help from the vendor's Business Intelligence Team, and dedicated customer service and support, Chicago officials report the LexisNexis solution has been a success.

Miami Beach, Fla.

The budget cops were all over Miami Beach's city IT department, demanding that the agency justify its resources, including managing 1,500 computers, supporting 14 servers, 150 network printers and support network connectivity to 35 remote locations, and a disaster recovery site. The city required a process for tracking the work being done by its employees to show the budget office that retaining development staff was imperative.

Metier's WorkLenz provided the solution to solving Miami's capacity planning and reporting issues. WorkLenz delivered the solution as a SAAS model. The solution, installed in under two weeks, allows Miami Beach executives to quickly understand resource allocation, track allocation by phase (strategy, planning, development) and justify resource cost to the budget office to prevent staff cuts.

City of Seattle

Address harvesting bots were savaging the city's system, sending an ever-greater volume of spam to city e-mail addresses. At one point, city employees' mailboxes piled up with as much as 90 percent spam. Seattle considered updating its e-mail system with appliances similar to the city's existing solution, but ultimately chose managed services hosted by a third-party provider.

Using Google Message Security, Seattle has increased security and reduced its threat surface. According to Michael Hamilton, chief information security officer for the city, "With an outsourced spam filtering solution, we could protect our users from spam without increasing employee overhead-and reduce our overall energy consumption by decommissioning the existing servers."

Added Hamilton, "We have decreased the number of servers we have running in the data center because Google hosts the application for us. The success of the outsourced model in general-and Google Message Security in particular-has led us to evaluate hosted applications to meet our other IT requirements."

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