Designing State And Local Governments With Connected Devices And Continuous Services
Kristin Bockius (St. Louis, MO) —
These are tough times for governments.
Well, for governments that can’t print money, that is. While at the Federal government level there are some, shall we say, creative solutions to financial problems, state governments around the U.S. don’t have so many options. States have to balance their budgets and increasingly need to be innovative with how they tackle budget shortfalls around various costs ranging from security, prisons, and law enforcement to health, housing, education, and other human services.
And the challenges are not subsiding. With people around the country running out of their 99 weeks of unemployment there is more need for innovation on the part of state and local governments to help an increasingly dejected populace than ever before. Governments have been cutting back,forcing furloughs and facing criticism,all while trying to keep up with their peers in the private sector. Citizens have been demanding more from their governments – faster service, easier access, data transparency, problem-solving innovation, and accountability.
A recent report about state government from the National Governors Association called this situation The Big Reset. Outlined in the report are a number of factors that include pressure for governments to increase revenue, increase protectionism, a tough entrepreneurial environment, and depressed consumers reluctant to spend. This is the ecosystem within which tough and sometimes controversial government decisions are now being made.
Redesigning an Essential Government Core
Not so long ago, innovative biologist J. Craig Venter (who famously raced the U.S. government to sequence the human genome first) declared that his research institute would create a half natural, half manmade form of life. The goal? To determine what the minimum essential organism is. How many genes are enough to make a fully functioning form of life?
You may not think that genomics research has much to do with government decision making, but not unlike Venter’s researchers, people in policy and politics circles are asking a similar question: What is the minumum essential government? And while one can be almost certain that no one will strip government to its core in order to find out, governments at all levels are finding ways to be more efficient.
So how are state and local governments reacting to The Big Reset? Among other things, many states are undertaking efforts to redesign government to meet these new realities, and taking a hard look at what “core services” are truly essential – and which ones aren’t.
Software, and information technology in general, is an important part of this redesign. In my role within Microsoft’s state and local government group, I see how states are adopting new software practices to meet their great challenges during The Big Reset. This is no surprise – technology is in the news every day, and with a trend towards what analysts call “the consumerization of IT” (AKA technology as fashion), it’s more visible than ever before, and people are intensely passionate about everything from Web 2.0 to music players to tablet computers.
One big, complicated, collection of new technologies changing how the business of government gets done is what is commonly called “cloud computing,” the new buzz word across business and government. If you think you don’t know what the cloud is, think again. Your iTunes account, Xbox Live, Hotmail/Gmail/Yahoo accounts – they all are in the cloud. When you buy something on Amazon, that’s done in the cloud. Twitter is hosted in the cloud. Microsoft Office is now offered in the cloud, as is Google Docs. (For a more technical description of the cloud, you can read InfoWorld’s artice on “What Cloud Computing Really Means.”)
State and Local Government Innovation in the Cloud
Cloud computing is a hot topic. But “the cloud” means different things to different people, there are numerous companies getting offering cloud services, and the area is quickly changing and has lots of jargon. Let’s simplify – how can moving some of the government’s software and services to online-based platforms help make government more efficient, offer better services to its stakeholders, and save money?
Here are a few examples of governments around the U.S. that are adapting to The Big Reset:
Minnesota: At the end of Setember, Minnesota became the first U.S. state to move its communications and collaboration suite to a “private” (basically, internal) cloud. This allows the state to combine basic business productivity applications in a unified package, including their e-mail, instant messaging, Web-based collaboration, and conferencing – all Web-based. This shift is expected to reduce redundancy and save Minnesota millions of dollars in technology upgrade investments and ongoing costs.
Gopal Khanna, the Chief Information Officer of Minnesota, recently said, ““We in the country face a serious problem… Fifty percent of the government will be retiring in the next 10 years. If we don’t re-engineer the process, we’re going to be in serious trouble. Citizens demand 24/7 service, but government is still based on a 9-to-5, 1950s model.” Khanna, credited with saving the state millions of dollars during his five years of service there, seems to be on the cutting edge of The Big Reset.
California: In 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his Governor’s Reorganization Plan, which consolidates statewide information technology under a single agency to enhance coordination of projects and promote cost savings. Thus, in the state of California – larger than many countries in numerous ways – government is also moving IT into the cloud. Government employees will soon have better email discovery services and mobile collaboration tools, among other features, and overall there are expected to be improvements in everything from data security to administration to responses to requests from the public.
These shifts are about efficiency and cost-savings, sure, but that doesn’t mean that one gets less service and features. Sometimes you get more. Gail Thomas-Flynn, the Vice President of Microsoft’s U.S. state and local government business, recently blogged, “Several state agencies and entities are already in the process of migrating their existing on-premise services over to Microsoft’s cloud services. For example, the City of Carlsbad recently moved its email and collaboration services to the Microsoft cloud after determining that our hosted environment offered a higher degree of security than they could provide internally.”
New York, NY: As a global financial and cultural capital, New York City is one of the most important and powerful cities in the world. And one of the very most logistically complex, too. Now, the city that never sleeps is one of the first major cities to move its collaboration and communications to the cloud. Recently, the New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, unveiled a sweeping IT modernization initiative that will save lots of money while improving citizen services and expanding collaboration across the city’s numerous agencies.
Mayor Bloomberg commented during his news conference, “By capitalizing on the City’s buying power, consolidating dozens of separate city agency license agreements into a single one, and paying for software based on use, we’ll save $50 million over the next five years.” That’s a lot of money saved, brought about by a combination of pressure related to The Big Reset, new IT offerings from “traditional” companies, and creative thinking with regard to licenses and other ways of going about conducting the business of government.
Diverse Cloud Innovation Across Governments
Where state and local governments meet the cloud goes far beyond what may seem like the mundane topics of efficiency and email. For example, New York City is testing emergency alerts for its millions of citizens through gaming systems Xbox, Playstation, and Wii, all of which have online networks. Particularly with younger people consuming less TV and radio and consuming more games and social networks, experiments like this in the cloud continue to adapt governments to The Big Reset while logically targeting people on platforms where they are already “listening” 24/7/365.
Another area of innovation in the cloud for local governments is what are collectively called “311 Solutions.” With these, citizens – often using the cloud and apps on their mobile devices – can submit 311 (non-emergency) requests to their city efficiently and on-the-go. A number of companies, HeyGov!, CitySourced, and SeeClickFix among them, are offering solutions in this area. With citizens demanding more from their governments, companies like these are enabling faster service, easier access, government transparency, and accountability.
Connected Devices For Continuous Services
You may still, at a personal level, feel somewhat removed from all this innovation. Perhaps you haven’t used a 311 service, or maybe the part of government where you work isn’t using cloud computing right now. Why should you care?
Microsoft’s visionary Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, is well-known for his memos that lay out what he expects to happen with software and other issues in the near future. In his latest memo, Dawn of a New Day, he wrote, “… to cope with the inherent complexity of a world of devices, a world of websites, and a world of apps & personal data that is spread across myriad devices & websites, a simple conceptual model is taking shape that brings it all together. We’re moving toward a world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services.”
Both governments’ and citizens’ dependence on cloud-based devices and applications will most likely continue to grow over the next five years. Simultaneously, risks to personal privacy and information security have never been higher. Within these challenging times, personal and organizational responsibility is perhaps a complicating dimension intersecting the relationship between The Big Reset and the innovative responses to it.
Kristin Bockius is the Education Marketing Manager within Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector division. She was until recently the State and Local Government Marketing Manager, where among other things she launched the Bright Side of Government blog.
Photo of the Massachusetts state house in Boston by Roshan Vyas and photo of Boston’s city center with a cloud from Tim Sackton, I-Ching Genome by Gisela Giardino, Ipod in Ford from Titanas; all used under Creative Commons. Thumbnail photo of dark clouds by Jose Roberto V Moraes and used under Creative Commons.