City of Miami takes citizen services to the cloud

The city of Miami is moving citizen services to the cloud with the launch of Miami 311

The city of Miami is moving citizen services to the cloud with the launch of Miami 311, an online application that lets residents track service requests and view the status of non-emergency events in the metropolitan area.

Miami residents can dial 311 to report issues such as potholes, streetlight outages or missed trash pickup and later log onto the Miami 311 site to monitor the progress of the requested resolution. Moreover, Miami 311 gives city managers better visibility into what is happening in their districts, allowing them to respond to specific problem areas.

To reduce operational costs and Web development time, the city built Miami 311 on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, said James Osteen, the city's assistant director of information technology.

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Like many municipalities and state governments, Miami has been hit hard by the economic downturn. The IT budget for the present fiscal year, which began last October, was slashed by 18 percent and the department lost 22 full-time positions, Osteen said.

This situation forced city IT managers to think of ways to reinvent the department and reduce costs. “That is why we started looking at the cloud application,” Osteen said.

Cloud computing is a way of computing via the Internet that involves the sharing of computer resources instead of having a local personal computer handle specific applications.

Half of Miami’s IT staff is dedicated to the care and maintenance of the IT infrastructure. The shift to the cloud will allow Osteen to reallocate IT staff and resources to the development of applications that provide better services to city residents and business partners, he said.

Some cloud providers are offering infrastructure to host clients’ virtual machines. However, Azure allows organizations to develop applications and plug them into the Azure fabric, eliminating the need for additional hardware and operating system configuration, said Derrick Arias, director of infrastructure with Miami’s IT division.

The IT department developed Miami 311 in eight days using two people, said Conrad Salazar, a project manager with the IT department. The department was able to achieve a 75 percent reduction in development costs by turning to the cloud, officials said.

“It was a low risk, but high profile service that we could get up in a relatively short period of time,” Osteen said. Miami 311 “allowed us to get experience with the Azure platform, the cost scenarios and the return on investment."

Azure can provide unlimited storage and processing capability, so city managers can address service requests and implement updates even during peak times such as hurricane season. The city can choose to host the service either on or off premises, depending on need.

The next step is to provide the capability for residents to open up Miami 311 service requests online.

Osteen hopes to put other applications in the cloud, such as emergency management software that is deployed during hurricane season. “If you put it in the cloud, you are not taking up any resources out of your infrastructure until you bring it live, and then you can ramp up to meet the demand,” paying only for what is used, Osteen said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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