Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

The Path to Digital Services is Through the Cloud

Agencies at all levels of government want to provide better services to their citizens. They know the way to do so is through digitization. While many have made great strides toward providing digital services, however, they often find themselves up against the limits of their existing IT infrastructure.

Whether those limitations are scalability, network speed or staff, these constraints hamper agencies’ attempts to make greater progress toward the end goal. And that goal is to transform government into a digital enterprise that helps citizens communicate and do business with government faster and more efficiently.

Government IT leaders understand cloud computing infrastructure would largely eliminate these bottlenecks, but relatively few have jumped on board. According to a recent survey of federal and state IT leaders by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, only 38 percent of government services are being delivered through the cloud today. The 1105 Public Sector Media Group survey was conducted by Beacon Technology Partners.

Agencies clearly understand the benefits of cloud computing for reasons of economy, flexibility and scalability. Other benefits cited by respondents include on-demand access, resource-sharing, speed, cost and future-proofing. When done right, agencies can realize these benefits and then some.

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The state of Georgia, for example, replaced its aging CMS system with a cloud-based digital government platform. That increased usability and site availability, and is projected to save $4.7 million over five years. FEMA made a similar move, transitioning to a cloud-based digital platform. In the process, it improved site performance by 93 percent, reduce the time to find information to one minute or less, and increased user satisfaction scores by 35 percent.

So why are agencies still hesitant to embrace the cloud for digital government? According to the 1105 Public Sector Media Group survey, the top reason is perceived security risk. While there is always some security risk in every IT-related endeavor, cloud security has improved significantly.

Even Federal CIO Tony Scott says he believes cloud computing is secure. "I see the big cloud providers in the same way I see a bank,” he says in a recent Google for Work Webcast. “They have the incentive, they have skills and abilities, and they have the motivation to do a much better job of security than any one company or any one organization can probably do."

Other industry analysts agree. “In many cases, cloud security from enterprise vendors is more robust than can be delivered by the average cash-strapped government agency,” says Al Blake, principal analyst for public sector at Ovum. “Risks are more perceived that real in most cases, and of course it’s important to realize that legacy, monolithic implementations have their own security risks. The question is which risks are acceptable for the potential benefits available?”

The 1105 Public Sector Media Group study found cost and infrastructure constraints are two of the biggest issues agencies believed were hindering fuller adoption of digital government. Cloud is a big part of the answer, says Kevin Noonan, Ovum’s lead government analyst. “Cloud equals agility,” he says. “With cloud, it’s much easier to start a project and, if it’s not going well, bail quickly. It’s also easy to scale quickly if it succeeds.”

Using the cloud construct is a sound financial move, he says, more so than spending a lot of money upfront on equipment that locks agencies into processes, capacity, and the equipment itself. “The trouble with aging the assets is that old assets end up hindering you,” says Noonan. “They slow development, and at some point they will break, which means you’re on the hook for a large replacement cost.”

Over time, agencies seem to be getting the message the cloud is the way to go. A report from IDC Government Insights found federal government agencies alone will spend $6.7 billion in the current fiscal year on cloud initiatives. By 2019, that number is expected to reach $11.5 billion.

The same is true on the state and local side. A 2015 survey from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) found that almost all states are planning some type of cloud service migration. So government agencies are realizing the path to digital services is truly through the cloud.

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Methodology and survey demographics

Between January 21, 2016 through February 11, 2016, 108 subscribers of FCW and GCN responded to an e-mail survey about digital services trends. Survey respondents were screened for involvement with, or interest in, customer-facing digital services offered on behalf of their department or agency. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Approximately 73% of respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 27 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 51 percent came from the federal government (37 percent civilian, 14 percent defense) and 40 percent from state or local government agencies. Nine percent of respondents represented a systems integrator that offers services to government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the custom publishing unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Public Sector Media Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Public Sector Media Group's custom publishing, please email us at PSMGCustomMedia@1105media.com.