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15th of August 2018

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Cloud coup: how centralized systems can save governments

Government. The word alone provokes every possible emotion and opinion. Removing political persuasion or left-right bias from the concept, however, almost all can agree that governments are, as a system, inefficient bohemeths -- and this is especially true when it comes to tech. Think about it: updating IT systems requires so much paperwork and oversight that every decision is checked, rechecked, tabled and budgeted. These processes can take years, if not decades, and leave governments well and truly behind in tech uptake. 

According to The GAO report some US agencies are using systems which have components that are at least 50 years old. The report from 2015 stated that government IT investments “[were] becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported.” I’d imagine some word association on the topic to go something like this: Government. Bureaucracy. Protocol. Red Tape. Inefficiency. This is the unfortunate perception and general reality of government services throughout the world. It gets worse: some governments continue to use fax machines as a communications cornerstone in 2018. 

Simply put, the use of such outdated technology costs time and money. There is an answer to this problem, and it isn’t more fax machines. The answer is cloud-based technologies. Interconnected, seamless, safe, cost-saving cloud-based technologies. Instead of insecure, tethered, tedious IT, there is a revolution taking place to shift to cloud solutions and secure, mobile, nimble, and quick IT. The benefits of integrating cloud solutions to government tech are wide-ranging, from faster processes to increased security of public information.

Less spend from the public purse

One look at the numbers shows governments spend a large chunk of their budget to continue using largely archaic tech. For instance, $60 billion of the United States federal budget is annually allocated to maintaining legacy IT systems. Further to this, researchers looking into infrastructure modernisation in 2016 found that federal government spend on IT per employee is almost four times the average per employee spend rate compared to other industries -- with the figure reaching almost $40,000 per worker. That is a lot of waste -- especially for public spend from typically tight budgets. 

So how could cloud-based technology solve this problem? Well, the cloud in its essence lowers costs by sharing services and infrastructures. It offers a wealth of options by allowing systems to run without additional hardware. For example, the consolidation of IT systems through cloud computing increases operational efficiencies while minimizing server and environmental footprints. Such efforts then significantly cut into running, ownership and energy costs.

A good real-world example of cloud solutions is with phones. Most governments typically have outdated phone systems, and often they don’t work. Many governments still use old hardware phone systems like NorTel which has limits on the amount of extensions or lines that can be created. Such networks come with double the cost: licensing fees for the phone system and fees for the service provider. With cloud-based solutions, it’s much easier to scale and the service is not restricted to the hardware. It’s also much easier to switch to a cloud system than to switch to an entirely new hardware system.

Keep what’s classified, classified

Keeping classified public information classified has been a major problem for governments over the past decade. Leaks and breaches of sensitive citizen data has become an almost common occurrence in the modern world, and it is easy to see why such information walks out the door. Governments have endless data, countless contractors, foreign enemies, flawed security and obsolete networks. Perhaps it’s no wonder that only 18 percent of Americans today say they trust the government always or most of the time.  

The computational footprint of governmental information is staggeringly large, and properly controlled cloud solutions could be the way governments operate in the future. Forbes described the possibilities best: “Centralizing [data] into a single hardened cloud, built and run by the top cloud and cyber experts in the world and offering a unified security model and policies and single monitoring infrastructure could solve a great deal of this insecurity challenge.” 

The fact of the matter is that cloud-based technologies can secure information better than on-premise systems. Hardware phones can easily be tapped. Faxes can easily be hacked. Insecure systems can easily be infiltrated. But when it comes to cloud technology, everything from the device to the server can be encrypted. With a VoIP system for example, communication can be encrypted all the way from the phone to the server - making it much harder to hack into the system. It should be noted that cloud-based systems do require the developer and cloud provider to use best practices in keeping their data secure. But generally, it is easier to do this as administrators get a helping hand from the cloud provider to strengthen security.

Cloud services have strict controls built-in to protect and encrypt the most precious thing of all: personal data. On-premise systems are simply more risky, and a dangerous choice when it comes to citizen information and its security. The flaws were evident in 2015 when hackers compromised the background investigation files of 22 million US federal employees and contractors. Government officials later admitted that these files were not encrypted because the systems were simply too old.   

Better customer service

It isn’t only about money or information: cloud solutions in government simply offer better service to the customer. If hardware systems fail, which they do, it can sometimes take days to restore. That process normally requires a contract with a consultant who promises a certain service-level agreement (SLA). And usually the more you pay, the faster they can come to repair the fault. These problems don’t exist with cloud-based solutions. 

Cloud solutions can expedite every process. Unlike their hardware counterparts, newer technologies can create analytics, collate data and generate statistics on all processes. Governments can then use this data in a variety of ways. Think optimization, cost management, team performance and more. It means faster service and better response times in the long run. This data can even empower citizens to make better, more informed decisions about their lives. 

According to Wired, the US government is already beginning to take many federal, state and local agencies which provide a variety of citizen services to the cloud. In such cases, citizens are able to closely monitor their energy and water consumption, helping them to be more vigilant of their usage. Furthermore, better access to medical records can even assist people in making health decisions. Clearly, taking government tech to the cloud can cut red tape, speed up processes and simply serve you, the customer, better. Isn’t that what government should be striving to achieve? We are their bosses after all.  

Peter R. Schroeder, CEO of Telzio 

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

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