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Azure Open Government

In this blog David Chou provides an excellent synopsis of the core mechanics and fundamental value of Cloud computing. He focuses on Microsoft Azure naturally, and so does this other recent white paper.

Business elasticity – As a service

In a nutshell these articles describe that the primary business benefits of Cloud computing is that it frees you up from the operational burdens of maintaining the underlying machinery of databases and servers yourself, while enjoying a scalability of platform as if you had deployed a huge farm of them.

You can simply rent this capability of being able to “scale out”, meaning you dynamically grab as many other servers as resources as and when you need them, and then release them when you no longer do so.

This means “business elasticity” – Your organization is flexing in response to the market conditions it is experiencing, and can be applied to any scenario. For example consider in government the backbone of their work being all the forms they process, such as tax returns and other workflows.

These have considerable peaks and troughs at different times of the year, and implementing them via the Cloud rather than in-house systems means streamlining IT costs in line with demand, rather than fixed purchases that go under-utilized.

Crowd computing

While this will make possible considerable cost-savings in IT equipment, for governments these benefits are only just the beginning.

It’s the new business models that Cloud systems can enable that will dramatically improve how efficiently government bureaucracy can work, and maximize how much social benefit they can deliver from their spending.

The business benefits of investing in Cloud computing will be further compounded by achieving compliance with Open Government Directives, like President Obamas initiative and the Canadian equivalent, where not only are they making government operations more transparent to the public, but they’re directly involving them in the process itself too, an Internet model known as “crowdsourcing”.

As described in a previous blog Beth Noveck pioneered these new types of Open Innovation business models, where traditional ways of conducting workflows are transformed from ‘closed’ to ‘open’, demonstrated by reinventing the US patent application process.

In her most recent blog on Open Grants she starts to describe how this same approach might be applied to the mammoth federal grant-making system in general, and the benefits that would come from doing so.

This is where the really big gains will come from for the American public, as improving the efficiency of this system as a whole will yield multiple benefits like eliminating duplication of efforts, more sharing of work produced from grant funding and so forth. Considering it accounts for half of the federal budget achieving more “bang for buck” here will yield staggering levels of social change and improvement.

Microsoft offers relevant Azure applications, like Grants Manager, which provide the building block for this type of approach, as part of a general suite of ‘Citizen CRM’ tools that can be leveraged to build these new workflow models.

Azure Canada : ICSP 2.0

How and where might other countries outside of the USA adopt these practices?

Grant-making is the same common process throughout all governments and so there is immediate potential to reuse this core model and then tailor it further for more specific local requirements.

For example this type of organizational redesign is also a form of ‘Social Innovation’, as it achieves more public participation and in a manner that reinvents societal structures in an innovative way. In Canada the government has identified the need for more of this activity in their policy efforts because they weren’t doing enough of it.

Canada also has existing policy areas that are ideal for applying this type of open grant-making approach.

For example the ICSP is a Canadian initiative for implementing Sustainable Community at the municipal level, channelling a $13 billion ‘Green tax‘ into environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects. It’s cascaded down from the federal level to provincial and then ultimately municipal governments through a process of creating ICSPs – Integrated Community Sustainability Plans.

This is a grant-making process that is meant to feature extensive public engagement, where these plans are submitted as grant applications, and are meant to reflect the full scope of the local communities social needs. However given they’re funding core infrastructure like roads and sewer work, they’re typically repeating the traditional ways of funding these projects.

As of yet these types of government workflows lack the policies and methods to truly gather and reflect the full in-depth spectrum of social needs, and so are ideal candidates for moving into the Cloud to do so.

Read more: White paper

Open Government Innovation – Harnessing Collective Intelligence for Public Sector Transformation. A Business Guide to Microsoft Cloud Computing

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