Today’s transformative movement towards a more digital and connected government is driven by the technological trends of big data, social networks, the “Internet of Things,” machine learning and bots. While these technologies can interact with one another, they all share the common foundation of cloud computing. Governments see the benefit of these new technological trends and are now moving to cloud computing.
Over the last five years, I have had the opportunity to help government service delivery leaders ease the transition of moving from their government hosted computing systems to Microsoft’s enterprise public cloud services. We’ve been able to help these transitions through minor adjustments to their approach to IT service delivery and by innovating with new connected government models for assurance.
Moving to the cloud presents its own challenges for public sector organizations. When organizations embark upon a cloud project, they typically encounter three project frictions that can delay cloud adoption: procurement, technology and trust.
Governments – in their initial exploration to adopt public cloud services, often encountered consumer oriented, “what-you-see-is what-you-get” service agreements, that are generally ill suited for the government’s needs. This often created procurement delays, slowing projects so that they could not take advantage of the agility that Cloud computing promised. By working with governments closely to evolve existing licensing agreements that meet Government needs and deploying enterprise-friendly ones, allowed us to help manage the challenges faced by IT decision-makers.
The delays surrounding technology is usually driven by fears that the existing government systems will not work with the cloud services. Understanding this need, and by working more closely with a wider variety of organizations from Open Source to large commercial software developers to ensure that applications work across platforms, on a wide variety of devices and in a cloud model of their choosing is critical. For instance, through Microsoft’s hybrid cloud environment, governments can deploy the cloud on their terms—whether it be on-premise, in the public cloud or in between depending on their own needs. With the help of a wide variety of Azure certified applications, governments can find familiar platforms such as LINUX, SAP, Oracle and others to ease moving existing workloads to the public cloud.
The third area that presented delays is that of trust, or more specifically adequate data protection—where public service leaders must meet legal and privacy obligations to help safeguard their data. We created a secure in-Canada cloud platform that is designed to meet government regulations and compliance requirements. We have established datacentres in Quebec City and Toronto, so government decision-makers have the additional reassurance that their data resides in a Canadian cloud. The confidence in the security and privacy safeguards provided by Microsoft’s Canadian cloud helps remove much of the policy delays that had slowed cloud adoption earlier. “The province of New Brunswick is now in a position to take advantage of the Microsoft Cloud offering, given that our data residency requirements are now addressed with the establishment of Microsoft’s Canadian local datacentres,” said Derek Jardine, COO, Service New Brunswick.
Addressing the needs of the legal and compliance community in a cloud service model is a shared responsibility between customers and the cloud service provider. Commonly known at Microsoft as assurance—to provide a robust and reliable foundation of security and privacy safeguards built throughout the cloud fabric. Customers like the City of Brampton can rely upon this solid foundation and add complementary security and privacy controls on top of it. Features such as Customer Lockbox, Keylocker and Multifactor authentication provide additional controls to further enhance the security and privacy of the cloud services offering. ExpressRoute is another complementary service that customers can leverage for their cloud services. ExpressRoute provides customers with a dedicated, high quality of service connection between the customer premise and Microsoft’s Canadian datacentres, ensuring that customer data does not pass over the Internet.
Moving beyond the challenges, there are opportunities that exist for government in moving to cloud computing–not only does it boost government’s ability to move to a consumption-oriented IT services model, it also removes the overhead costs traditionally associated with outsourced services delivery models. It also allows them to break free of the time-consuming custom requirements of development, expensive tailored hardware/software and the administrative burdens of contractual change requests. The cloud allows governments to be far more agile and responsive to evolving customer needs.
For example, in the last two years, the City of Regina has become technologically progressive, continually evaluating the latest IT innovations to transform city operations and infrastructure, and serve citizens better. We worked with the City to move its identity management services to the cloud. This transition has allowed citizens to set up an online account which supports single sign-on, identity management and select various online services. The most popular one lets citizens access their utility account and check their water bills and water consumption. By moving from an on-premise identity solution, to one hosted on the cloud allowed the city to transform its operations as well as infrastructure, and ultimately serving citizens better. “Our new Azure-powered identity management solution saved us $35,000 upfront and $7,500 annually,” said Carole Tink, Manager of IT Strategy and Business Support, City of Regina “It’s like we’ve jumped from the IT dark ages to the forefront in terms of corporate technological software solutions—the cloud brings enhanced government service to the community, not just savings.”
Governments around the world recognize the current technological revolution that is transforming their agencies. They know that to spark digital innovation across the country they need to lead by example, demonstrating leadership in the adoption of digital technologies. Transition has been made easier – in that, as an increasing number of organizations move to the cloud, there is a growing body of knowledge, architectural patterns and reusable solutions that are readily available for organizations new to cloud computing to leverage for their own journey. Not only do these reusable solutions support a more rapid deployment of online services, they also contribute to significant cost savings. But more than that, digital government projects are bringing IT and service delivery leaders closer together than ever before–enabling governments to leverage external resources to mitigate capacity gaps or bandwidth.
Additionally, close interaction between these communities as well as legal, security and privacy groups has been a key factor to the success of cloud deployments across Canada. The multi-disciplinary approach to service development and deployment allow for a comprehensive review of the many elements that contribute to a successful project. The consistent understanding of business, technology, security and privacy risks allows public sector organizations to focus on the specific data and uses of cloud services, streamlining the decision making processes.
“Cloud computing creates opportunities for our city to transform the way we engage and interact with our citizens and businesses,” said Linda Jeffrey, Mayor of the City of Brampton. “Microsoft is supporting us in our efforts to innovate and be leaders in digital government, and they are our trusted technology partner. By offering a simplified, scalable and accessible approach with Azure and Office 365 solutions, they allow us to build a mobile workforce and, at the same time, modernize our infrastructure for agility and security.”
In catching the wave of new cloud technologies, governments are transforming the way work gets done and how they engage and deliver services to their constituents – as well as their employees. By leveraging the right partnerships with cloud service providers, governments can ease their digital transformation knowing that there are security and privacy safeguards to protect their sensitive data.
John Weigelt is a National Technology Officer at Microsoft Canada