The cloud in government?

Recent discussion about the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) brought me back nearly a decade to a time when, as an IT director, I stood in the way of just such a proposal for government software…as a service.

My state had selected a vendor. Their task: produce a portal website and provide far away servers – servers I did not control – to store documents and data about the people we served. Security was never discussed. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to blindly trust that they would manage it “correctly.”

Even scarier, their pricing was by the document. Not a bad strategy when you’re trying to start a business with government as your target market! But needless to say, I did not sign up my agency.

Times sure have changed. Clouds have moved in over Washington, and not just because of midterm elections. President Obama has begun an IT initiative to move the use of SaaS into the federal government realm. But that’s federal. Should state and local government consider SaaS?

Yes! So how can government’s unique mission be served by a SaaS model?

Let’s use the example of enterprise content management as SaaS. If I can 1) offer improved public access to documents and services through a website, plus 2) cut the costs of storing and retrieving documents that my staff uses every day, I have just pushed my agency ahead technologically – without bearing the costs of staffing the deployment or purchasing the capital equipment to power it. And all of this is accomplished just by sharing server and staff costs with other customers through SaaS. This is budget brilliance because you are getting more for less!

Think you might want to have the technology in-house someday? At least one ECM vendor has even worked out the ability to assist its customers to move their solution in-house. This way, the solution you start as SaaS can be brought into your agency or department, if, of course, that makes sense for your staff and technology initiatives (or your improved budget).

But how does it match up with the mission of government?

Last time, I wrote about the need to put our increasingly smaller government workforce where it counts the most…and that is not moving paper files around. What if the SaaS model allowed you to do just that? The cost structure it provides allows you to move forward with – you guessed it – those IT investments that get rid of the paper and manual processes. Mission accomplished.

Sometimes you live long enough to change your mind. And I have, especially in this time of difficult budgets. Because if the price is appropriate, if the security is there, if the functionality matches the need and there are vendors with proven ability to deliver these solutions, why wouldn’t I consider it?

Government is never asked to do less, they are asked to do more with less. A SaaS option could meet this challenge. And, to take it a step further, the SaaS model coupled with the cost-saving effect of enterprise content management may just be the right combination to position your agency for maximum staff efficiency and citizen service.

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