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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How governments can reap the benefits of the cloud

State and local governments are under ever-increasing pressure to modernize their data systems and technology. But with constricting budgets and limited resources, these organizations are hard pressed to keep up with rapidly changing technological demands.

Many private companies have solved this problem by switching to cloud computing. Given the sensitive nature of some of their data and processes, however, governmental entities at all levels have been hesitant to move to the cloud.

Even after the federal government declared a “cloud first” initiative -- which directed agencies to look at cloud implementations for new projects before traditional ones --  it has taken some time for many agencies to make the switch.  But now that those doors have been opened -- the CIA uses Amazon Web Services, for instance -- agencies at all levels of government have the opportunity to reap the same benefits as the private sector.

Benefits of the cloud in government

Much has been written about the benefits of the cloud for organizations, but the gains for government go beyond what companies typically see because cloud addresses government-specific challenges.

Many local governments have already strained budgets and limited resources, in addition to dealing with older infrastructure in need of modernization. Because the cloud provides the servers and infrastructure, it’s a cost-effective means of updating architecture without significant investment in equipment.

The cloud also alleviates pressure on IT staff resources. Because the management of the infrastructure and the updates to the applications are the responsibility of the cloud provider, fewer IT department resources are needed to manage a more robust set of systems.

While security was a concern in the early days of the cloud, there are many providers today that meet federal cloud security requirements as well as other compliance requirements, like PCI for accepting credit cards for utilities and other payments. This makes it easier for agencies to meet residents’ expectations when it comes to flexibility of payment options.

Plan for leveraging the cloud

The cloud may seem like the answer to a local government’s prayers, but as with any decision, making this move requires careful  consideration.

One of the biggest concerns for agencies thinking of migrating to the cloud is vendor lock-in. Depending on the implementation, applications built to work with one cloud provider may require significant retooling to move them to another provider at a later time. One option to consider is a multi-cloud solution in which an agency uses one provider for all of its web applications but a separate provider for  cloud-based payments processing.

IT managers should also evaluate what versions of cloud offerings will work best for their agencies and customers.  They should weigh the benefits of software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and ifrastructure-as-a-service solutions, and consider a combination of these offerings for their cloud implementations.

The cloud is no longer off limits to local governments. Federal agencies have already paved the way for its use, and advances in cloud offerings mean that these solutions are cost effective and secure.  IT managers can leverage the cloud to help alleviate the tech challenges faced by state and local government IT departments.

About the Author

Jami Hughes is the director of sales at Forte Payment Systems.

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