Connecting state and local government leaders
Commentary | Here are five steps to help guide the planning and changes needed for states and municipalities to move to the cloud.
Cloud computing’s benefits for business have been massive and continue to grow, as the digital foundation for effective operations and customer services at the heart of the way most of us now live and work. We expect government to be generally more cautious and frankly slow in adopting new technologies, as was certainly the case for cloud computing prior to the pandemic.
But over the last 12 months a rapid acceleration of government services in the cloud has occurred, as the benefits of cloud were highlighted by the pandemic, providing many organizations the system resilience, agility, adaptability and scalability that proved essential in their response and recovery from massive disruptions to operations, workforces and service delivery.
Important considerations like budget constraints, regulatory requirements and data privacy considerations have been among many factors slowing the government move to cloud over the past decade. Yet even before the pandemic, a 2019 global survey of public sector leaders found 70% viewed migration to the cloud as key to the transformation of their organizations’ operations and systems over the next three years. Fast forward to 2021 and we are undoubtedly at an inflection point for a much wider-spread move to the cloud by public sector agencies of all shapes and sizes.
For government entities that have yet to join the move to cloud, the pathway can seem overwhelming alongside their day-to-day essential activities to maintain services and meet existing requirements and pressures. For the growing numbers who see potential benefits of cloud as outweighing the obstacles and are ready to take initial steps, cloud migrations at the outset require thoughtful planning and collaboration across often siloed entities, and awareness and involvement by a spectrum of stakeholders.
Here are steps to help guide the planning, collaboration, operational changes and communications essential for the government move to cloud.
Collaborate, Migrate and Scale Up
Alignment of all departments within an organization moving to cloud is crucial. Migration to the cloud is not an essentially IT-driven process—it must involve financial, legal, regulatory, customer service and security functions. Cross-functional teams are essential for risk mitigation planning, and to drive a move to cloud that is focused on realizing value, through the migration and beyond. As on-premise data centers will likely follow a gradual, phased move to cloud, a key focus throughout migration and beyond is a systemic approach to delivering and measuring value to the organization and its constituents over time.
Start with Low-hanging Fruit
Most public agencies have dozens of services and databases, and many may oversee hundreds or even thousands of databases, each with their own risks and requirements. Moving an entire agency or organization to the cloud in one go is often too complex and overly ambitious. The cross-functional teams should focus on which tools and databases can deliver the biggest impact to the most users in the shortest amount of time. Prioritizing the “low-hanging fruit” allows agencies to capture some quick wins and to fine tune their cloud implementation processes so each new iteration moving to the cloud goes more smoothly.
Consider the Hyperscalers
Many public agencies will approach the move to cloud with little more than basic awareness of Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud. Such public cloud “hyperscalers” offer global reach, deep expertise and proliferation of cloud services and solutions. Each is also on an innovation journey, investing and competing to streamline migrations and creating services for government cloud users. The deep expertise and global experience of these cloud providers can help public agencies achieve rapid results that prove the value of the cloud, often a priority to showcase the budgetary and citizen benefits of cloud systems.
Innovate and Grow
The cloud enables innovation and service delivery in government, based on the availability of flexible, “pay as you use it” computing power. It enables project teams to iterate faster, to safely and quickly test prototypes, and to collect real-time feedback from users. In essence, the cloud offers public agencies a faster and more cost-effective means to develop, test and launch or expand services in response to changing needs and demands. And it reduces the need for internal investment typically required to fund innovation and development and becomes a new bedrock for dynamic operations and capabilities in organizations dedicated to continual improvement.
Manage for Optimization
Managing the cloud is fundamentally different than on-premise systems, where limits are determined by physical hardware and relatively static applications. Cloud management requires continual monitoring of consumption, capacity, performance and cost. Governments need to build new skillsets and to be highly proactive in finding and building cloud talent. Many organizations migrating to cloud will ultimately be managing a multicloud environment, including a mix of software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, private cloud and some remaining on-premise capabilities.
This type of mixed computing environment brings extra complexity for ongoing management and optimization, and it motivates many agencies to work with partners for day-to-day cloud operations and to help them stay current with new functions and features so the agency can focus on its core mission.
The cloud has proven its value and importance to support needs for resilient and evolving public services such as enabling agencies to rapidly shift to remote work environments and implement chatbots to help meet surging and changing citizen demands for information during the pandemic. Government organizations can use the cloud to give citizens faster access to vital services, information and resources. For organizations still in the contemplation stage, it is time to take steps to begin using this game-changing capability for government to better serve citizens and create future-ready organizations.
Ryan Oakes is managing director of Accenture’s global public sector practice.