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How To Succeed With Your Head in the Cloud.
July 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm #136115
Shannon KennedyParticipantWhat should state and local governments be considering when moving to the cloud? I talked back in May about San Francisco's decision to move to the cloud and just read this cool post from Microsoft in which San Francisco CIO Jon Walton gives us his tips to successful cloud computing. Below are his thoughts.
1. What are the most important benefits to San Francisco in moving your communications and collaborations systems to the cloud?
Cost savings is important, but it cannot be the only factor for a decision like this. While we're saving money in our implementation, it has to be an apples to apples comparison when you evaluate the options available. Other important factors include speed to implement (the cloud takes weeks or months instead of years), scalability (you can start small and then scale up to a citywide system as needed), and disaster readiness (this is especially important to San Francisco). Considering how feature rich Exchange Online is, it would be have been far more expensive to build a system like this on our own from the ground up.
2. You recently traveled to Japan during the major earthquake there. With San Francisco's proximity to major fault lines and the risk of natural disasters, what role do you see the cloud playing in continuity of operations?
It was interesting because I spoke about cloud computing when I visited Japan, and I talked about the opportunity the cloud provides as well as the honest challenges like privacy, security, and vendor reliability. I observed firsthand that, after a disaster, these challenges were secondary to the most important requirement-available and robust communications. When the earthquake hit, everything went down and no one could access their private systems - so Facebook, Hotmail, Skype, we were relying on public cloud-based solutions.
The theoretical discussions about cloud concerns were instantly gone, and the cloud solutions were the first to work as well as the most reliable. When time is of the essence and your work is mission-critical, you have to use the tools available to get the job done. In Japan, those tools were the public cloud technologies, and that's what everyone used effectively.
As a public official, one of my charges is to prepare my city workforce so that when the unthinkable does happen, we are ready and can still get our job done. And cloud-based technology is an effective way to ensure that.
3. As CIO of a major city and county government, what other workloads would you consider moving to the cloud?
We've already moved all of our web content to a cloud-based solution, and we're working to move our entire building permit, project management, and online payments systems to the cloud. To me, communications and data are essential in the case of a natural disaster. EOC (Emergency Operations Centers) training focuses on communication and asset availability - where are our resources, our people? The more data, applications, and communications systems we can move to a cloud technology, the more likely it is that they will work in a critical situation.
4. What other technologies did you consider before you decided to deploy Microsoft Exchange Online?
We considered Google and most of the city already used Lotus Notes, so we know the capabilities of each solution very well. You have to remember that there isn't one solution that is the best solution for everyone every time. For us, pricing between Google and Microsoft was comparable, and disaster-readiness was comparable, so user acceptance and features became two key criteria in our selection of Microsoft.
I've had a lot of conversations recently with other CIOs specifically discussing Exchange versus Google Apps. What I tell them is that we needed a solution that is compatible and works well with our existing technology investments, including the Microsoft SharePoint and Office products we already have. And unlike Google, using Exchange I don't have to be connected/online at all times to work, so e-mail availability at all times is one of the many features that made a difference in our selection.
The reality for me as a CIO is that I also need a solution that people want to use and like to work within. Exchange was unanimously approved by the department directors, Mayor's Office, and Board. And the response from all across my organization has already been overwhelmingly positive.
5. What advice and best practices do you have for other city or state officials who are thinking about implementing cloud technologies?
Aside from all the criteria we've discussed, it's really about organizational buy-in from top to bottom. I have seen and experienced an "ivory tower" approach to technology product selection (where the IT department passes down the decision without consulting anyone else), and 9 times out of 10 it fails. Even though it was time-consuming and painstaking, we intentionally had a very open and transparent process that involved stakeholders from all departments across the city and county, and I think that's been a key to our success.
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