Agencies increasingly see the cloud’s silver lining

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Connecting state and local government leaders

A cloud-centric infrastructure is flexible enough to enable government organizations to manage and access critical decision-making data for less in an environment that is secure, modern and reliable.

Cloud technology is taking the public sector by storm as government grasps the potential for greater collaboration, improved operations and increased cost efficiency. According to a recent survey of state CIOs, nearly two-thirds of states have some kind of cloud-based application software initiative underway or planned. This same survey also shows that three-quarters of states are busy exploring the potential of cloud-based security services and monitoring.

The openness to new technology is a shift for a sector that has traditionally felt that “serving the common good” meant ensuring data security via private networks. Perhaps the openness to new technology can be attributed to concerns stemming from high-profile data security breaches of recent years -- JP Morgan Chase, Target and even the U.S. government -- being several examples.

Data breaches of private networks have opened our eyes to the fact that all data, networks and environments are vulnerable to hackers. And rather than being viewed as a cheaper option for just hosting data, the cloud is also increasingly being considered by government IT leaders as a viable, secure  solution to streamline operations.

Breaking through budgetary barriers

Cloud-based solutions allow public sector employees to move beyond paper-based processes, simplify day-to-day operations, increase transparency and anticipate risks before they become problems. Despite these benefits, investment of taxpayer dollars on cloud technology in the public sector is still not widespread, especially in corrections.

Lack of investment is a prioritization issue. It’s also a knowledge issue. As a recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice outlines, county governments and jail officials would likely make different investment decisions if they could see the whole picture. The study’s authors note that “when elected officials and other policymakers know a jail’s total cost and marginal cost -- as well as the many cost-effective alternatives to jail detention -- they can make better decisions.” Perhaps it’s time to put cloud benefits into that larger equation.

Those controlling corrections budgets are starting to understand that even as public funds diminish, cloud solutions can help, providing public safety institutions with customizable, scalable, cost-effective tools for managing offenders from intake to release.  A jail management solution can include capabilities for operational efficiencies, such as sentence tracking, time accounting, housing and bed assignments. But the technology can also capture other key decision-enabling data that can help reduce recidivism.

“Downsizing jail populations is easier said than done and will require collaboration among police, prosecutors, judges and community corrections officials -- all of whom have different perspectives and priorities,” writes Vera’s president and director in his introduction to the study. Because such a “large sum of money” hangs in the balance, solutions that increase efficiency and cut costs, such as cloud-based jail management solutions, should be considered.

Handling the data

Body cameras worn by law enforcement officials enable transparency -- after all, we regularly see footage on the nightly news. But what we don’t consider is what happens to the data. And, with the Justice Department’s announcement last September that it would award grants totaling more than $23 million to 73 local and tribal agencies to expand the use of body cameras and explore their impact, there’s even more data to manage.

As the Associated Press reports, it is expensive for local governments to manage the volumes of video they must keep for months or longer, depending on retention policies in their jurisdictions. Aggregating body camera footage in the cloud is not just a matter of law enforcement compliance and ease, it’s about cost savings. A recent Police Chief Magazine article points to estimated savings of using cloud services versus in-house equipment, labor and infrastructure of between 30 and 50 percent. That’s compelling.

The article’s author adds that the best cloud service providers “offer access to cutting-edge technology, redundancy and world-class security that most public agencies could never hope to achieve on their own.” This is yet more evidence that investments in the cloud can yield significant return on investment to taxpayers over time.

Finding the silver lining

Expecting facilities and agencies to run efficiently and cost effectively without sophisticated technology is unrealistic. As taxpayers, we should expect -- even demand -- innovation that stretches public safety funds as far as possible.

With cloud technologies, solutions can change and evolve with agency needs. A cloud-centric infrastructure is flexible enough to enable government organizations to manage and access critical decision making data for less, all in an environment that is secure, modern and reliable.

Over time, we’ll see increased sharing of data across state, local and federal jurisdictions. Thanks to cloud technologies, public sector agencies will have a better understanding of, and access to, real-time information, along with a proper means to track, monitor and manage events in the public sector. When this happens, we’ll really begin to see the silver lining of today’s modern cloud.

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