utah state capitol (Maciej Bledowski/Shutterstock.com)

How clouds lift Utah’s government services

Utah is working on an update to its cloud strategy that will reflect its recent focus on migrating to a multicloud environment.

The strategy, which is expected in May, will “let us operate in multiple clouds that make it look and feel like a single offering,” state CTO Dave Fletcher said. “We’re looking at some new tools that will enable us to better extend our security perimeter and our management capabilities across multiple clouds so that we can manage all of the different activities that our agencies are using -- both on our private cloud and on the public cloud offerings that we support.”

The state is no stranger to cloud, having issued its first cloud strategy in 2002. Utah uses Amazon Web Services to store video from law enforcement officers’ body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras. A comprehensive platform will soon let not only state law enforcement officials, but also local departments upload their videos to manage and share them when access is requested.

Additionally, Utah uses the ServiceNow cloud platform for IT service management, and some state agencies are using cloud to do “new and creative things,” Fletcher said. The Office of Tourism, for example, is working on an artificial intelligence-based tool to give people who want to visit and travel to Utah a personalized experience, direct them to the kinds of activities and sites that would most interest them.

Socrata’s cloud platform hosts the state’s open data, Esri’s ArcGIS is used for geographic data and Google Apps for Government, which Utah adopted about five years ago as a collaborative platform, is  used to work on documents, presentations and spreadsheets, for example.

“Our private cloud is pretty well developed, I think, as far as states go,” he added. “We virtualized all of our computing farm and are working on the software-defined networking and software-defined storage components of our software-defined data center so we can more seamlessly integrate services across the private and public clouds that we work in.”

Utah isn’t keeping its cloud experience to itself. The state recently led a coalition of states along with the National Association of State Procurement Officers to develop a comprehensive cloud contract that all 50 states can use. NASPO’s ValuePoint Cloud Solutions contract, a collaborative purchasing arrangement, lets states buying similar IT purchase as one entity.

“In Utah, we’re using cloud in a lot of ways,” Fletcher said. “We’re using a lot of different cloud platforms, and we just need to be able to do a better job of helping agencies navigate and provision what they need and giving them a vision for what they’re able to do,” he said.

To that end, the state recently replaced its 15-year-old Product Management Council with the Utah Digital Experience Management Council, which focuses on improving digital experiences for users of state agency websites. Fletcher announced the change in a March 14 blog post.

The council will meet quarterly with representatives from each state agency and other stakeholders to share new ideas for enhancing digital services. The group also shares information about standards and performance metrics.

“We’ve started doing a lot of things well beyond just what is on the web: social media … wearables and mobile and AI kinds of platforms, chatbots and other kinds of digital experiences,” Fletcher said. “We felt like it was time to change the council and reflect where we are heading.”

The council has seven main focus areas:

  • Delivering products across myriad devices, including wearables and internet-of-things devices
  • Standardizing platform-as-a-service statewide
  • Enhancing open data
  • Focusing on users
  • Improving accessibility
  • Integrating artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies into service delivery
  • Integrating service delivery to provide more personalization

As an example of the last item, Utah is updating its identity, credential and access management strategy “so that we can integrate all of our access systems to get a better view of the customer,” Fletcher said.  When customers are getting “a new fishing license online, they can also learn about camping spots near where they might be or that would be accessible to them based on their location and preferences,” he said.

Data-driven government that meets citizen demands while keeping budgets in check is top of mind for Fletcher, who said his goal is “being able to better leverage across data silos using big data techniques that are well-supported in the cloud.”  Analytics and eventually AI are also in the mix to improve service delivery and control costs. “We have a big pressure that way -- to use IT to make government more efficient," he said. "We’re always looking for new opportunities for that.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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