States are being pound-foolish in moving slowly to the cloud
Cloud computing may be old hat to those working in the IT field, but there seems to be a surprising amount of inertia on cloud adoption, even among public-sector agencies where failure to share data, storage and other services comes at a high cost.
Among these slow rollers are state government agencies that face massive duplication of IT-related requirements — a situation tailor-made for cloud solutions — but limited funding for IT among other projects competing attention.
According to a late 2012 survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, only 15 percent of states considered themselves "highly invested in cloud computing," about the same level as the year before.
Mostly states are dabbling in cloud, with about half operating "some applications in the cloud, and considering others," according to NASCIO. Surprisingly, cloud was given the highest score among 10 top technology priorities facing the states, according to a November 2012 ranking by NASCIO. There’s a gap between CIO priorities and state financial realities, to be sure.
Given the financial straits most states are in, using cloud-based approaches — especially to support shared services and data storage across departments and even jurisdictions — would seem like a wise game plan. That's especially true for Medicaid and unemployment insurance programs, where states have nearly identical federal program and process requirements and widespread technology duplication.
Failure to move to shared services solutions in these cases suggests agency IT managers lack the resources to plan IT consolidation and other building blocks for moving to the cloud. But it also points to a lack of management will power to make the effort to form shared services arrangements across departments and jurisdictions.
Fortunately, there are notable exceptions to the slow-adopters. Late last year, a consortium of 15 western states formed a cooperative to award contracts for cloud hosting services and to share geographic information systems data. The arrangement has grown beyond GIS data sharing to include general cloud hosting and infrastructure as a service.
And ambitious public sector IT sharing projects continue to pop up. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is pushing to set up a cloud platform through which public and private organizations could share geospatial data needed to respond rapidly to natural disasters around the world.
State and local government IT managers should be encouraged to make to take the risks necessary to pilot and gain experience with similar cloud and shared services programs. And there may be no real choice. As Montana GIS manager Robin Trenbeath told us earlier this year, sharing applications and services is the wave of the future, prompting citizen demand for more efficient uses of IT.
“We can’t deliver that at a reasonable cost all by ourselves,” he said. “You have to collaborate."