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Clouds Over King County, Washington

It looks like there are clouds moving into King County, Washington. And while clouds normally mean rain in the Pacific Northwest, in this case we’re talking about a major organizational and technological change.

King County, home of Seattle, is the largest county in the state of Washington and home to tech giants Microsoft and Amazon. Given such neighbors, it’s no surprise that the county office is considered a trailblazer in its approach to public sector IT.

GovLoop recently sat down to chat with King County Chief Information Officer Bill Kehoe to discuss its approach to cloud computing, as well as some of the larger trends in the way cloud computing is changing the way governments use and purchase technology today.

Clouds Over King County

The move to cloud computing has been incremental for King County, but the changes have been no less impactful.

“We started looking into cloud when I arrived about three and a half years ago,” said Kehoe. “King County had multiple data centers and multiple server environments, and that wasn’t very efficient.” So the county put together a technology strategy that encouraged the adoption of cloud solutions and off-premise vendor solutions before expanding the data center any further.

“Essentially, we made the strategic decision not to build out our infrastructure anymore, but instead shrink it with cloud services, server consolidations, as well as virtualization,” said Kehoe.

King County’s Early Cloud Projects

King County began its transition to cloud with productivity software. “We first started with Microsoft, and their development platform as a service (BPOS), which then expanded to the rollout of Office 365,” explained Kehoe. The initial phase included Microsoft SharePoint, which was perfect for cloud due to its very widespread and dispersed use throughout county offices. This summer, the county will also move to Microsoft’s Government Cloud, which will house Office 365.

Additionally, in 2015, the county hopes to move its email service from on-premise to the cloud, with some added functionality between email and Office 365.

[To learn more about the transformative effects of today's new IT consumption landscape, make sure to download our latest guide, Innovations that Matter: The Future of Public Sector IT Consumption.]

The Benefits of Cloud Computing

Kehoe sees a number of benefits to cloud computing, from both a technology perspective and a business perspective.

Efficiency and Cost Savings

As Kehoe described it, King County really had no choice but to change strategies. The traditional method of IT consumption – in which the IT department is responsible for virtually all of the investment costs, and is also responsible for the delivery of infrastructure and user-facing software – just wasn’t sustainable. It also led to siloed platforms and departmental redundancy.

“The old system got use to the point where we are today,” said Kehoe. “We have over a thousand applications – 80 percent of which are legacy – and we have huge lists of tools we need to modernize.” The best chance to reverse this trend, with respect to technology, is to take some of these applications, consolidate them and put them into the cloud. Already the county is seeing reduced technology silos, as well as the reduction of expensive hardware and software investments that will inevitably one day turn into legacy infrastructure.

Speed to Delivery

The speed with which the county can now deploy applications and environments is also a significant improvement. “If you look at what we’re doing with software as a service in the cloud – that’s where we’re really seeing significant improves in time to market,” said Kehoe.

Another example is the new case management system for the county’s prosecuting attorney’s office, which was deployed in just nine months. “With existing staff, a system like that would have take years and millions of dollars,” explained Kehoe. “Instead, we were able to take advantage of these more configurable systems without a lot of customization.”

The Future of Cloud (in King County and Beyond)

“Cloud is not going away,” said Kehoe. “It’s not a fad. It is just going to keep growing and growing, with more and more of our services residing in cloud environments.” This is why the county developed a strategic plan that is aligned with this reality.

Kehoe and his staff are also putting in some of the tough front-end work as well. They’ve moved to further consolidate their server, infrastructure, and storage environments. “We have all of our platforms in place, which is really great,” said Kehoe. “We also have an Amazon contract for infrastructure as a service, we have Microsoft CRM and Office 365 for platform as a service, and we also have various vendors for software as a service. We just need to fully mature our services to complete the transition over time.”

But Kehoe was quick to warn that not everything will reside in the cloud, especially for government enterprises. “We’re definitely going to have, for a very long time, hybrid environments,” he said. “Essentially that’s what everyone is going to have. There are some things that will have to be on-premise, and there are other things that it makes sense to have in the cloud. We are developing use cases for our cloud adoption strategy utilizing our Enterprise Architecture principles.”

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