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The Benefits of Investing in Cloud Services for Municipalities

Local governments are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that the cloud is here to stay, as its benefits and capabilities become increasingly demystified.  In addition, cloud opportunities seem to have skyrocketed.   

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Local governments are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that the cloud is here to stay, as its benefits and capabilities become increasingly demystified.  In addition, cloud opportunities seem to have skyrocketed.   

Local governments are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that the cloud is here to stay, as its benefits and capabilities become increasingly demystified.  In addition, cloud opportunities seem to have skyrocketed.   

What has become more evident is cloud capabilities may even be limitless; almost all IT needs can now be met in the “as a service” delivery model.  So, what do all these “… aa Service” acronyms really mean, and which ones are right for your municipality?   

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)  

What it is:  Think of your infrastructure as the “backbone” of your technology environment.  This sets up your platform for your operations and systems.  Virtual machines, servers and data storage are the foundation of your network and can all be operated “virtually” from the cloud.  Essentially, you’re building your IT platform in someone else’s virtual space; you’re a piece of a larger cloud datacenter.  Popular providers include Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Why you may be interested:  IaaS relieves your municipality of the expenses and upkeep of physical hardware and equipment.  Another great featureit’s scalable.  Your technology environment can grow (or downsize) as needed almost instantly by “spinning up” virtual servers when you need them and stopping or decreasing them when you don’tno need to run out and buy (set up and install) additional hardware.  From a cost perspective, pay for what you need, when you need itjust like your utility bill. 

Platform as a Service (PaaS)  

What it is: Platform as a Service allows your municipality to build applications quickly and efficiently with software development tools, application programming interfaces (APIs) and cloud-hosted databases. In-house development of applications has now moved from on-site servers to the cloud under a PaaS setup. This means IT can focus on developing custom applications and workflows without worrying about in-house software tools. Examples of PaaS include many popular web, database, and data science platforms such as Microsoft Azure’s PowerApps and Flow, Azure databases and websites, Google’s Tensorflow, Amazon’s Sagemaker, and Microsoft Machine Learning Service.

Why you may be interested: If your municipality typically develops and customizes applications, a PaaS framework will allow IT to do this building and developing expeditiously. PaaS vendors typically provide development frameworks and tool kits that will save your IT team time building workflows and applications. PaaS can be scalable as well, adapting to demand. Most PaaS is set up to enable your IT staff to build solutions that work across a range of devices (e.g. desktops and mobile platforms). And from a cost perspective, the PaaS option will reduce the costs of building applications from scratch (time and resources).

Software as a Service (SaaS)

What it is: Software as a Service is certainly the most commonly “as a Service” cloud usage among municipalities. Many cities and towns have already transitioned many of their critical systems (e.g. Financial Management System, Tax Systems, Student Information Systems, etc.) to a cloud-hosted solution. Common SaaS applications you may be familiar with include Google Drive/Docs, Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce CRM, Kronos and Dropbox. The list is extensive and countless vendors have now switched to offering their software solutions only in a hosted environment.

Why you may be interested: Hosted applications alleviate IT departments from buying, housing, and upgrading the servers and hardware needed to run the software systems. Ongoing capacity, compatibility and upgrade issues essentially cease. Software updates on hosted solutions generally happen automatically; IT is no longer responsible for applying software releases/upgrades to applications. Web-based applications allow municipality employees to access systems remotely, “in the field” or anywhere from outside of the municipal buildings. And disaster recovery/business continuity? That responsibility now lies fully with the SaaS vendor.

But what about security? With the “as a service” model, control over your data remains with the municipality. Depending on the type of service you outsource (infrastructure, platform or software), the IT vendor will manage other elements on your behalf. However, it is still important to do your homework regarding the vendors you plan to work with. Do your due diligence: understand the location of the cloud solution/architecture, what your contract or agreement includes, confirm the privacy practices, and ask the vendor for their most recent Service Organization Control (SOC1, SOC2 or SOC3) report (an independent, third-party report that will provide some assurance on the vendor’s practices and controls as they relate to security, privacy, and a number of other critical criteria known as “trust service principles”). Confirm where the municipality’s data will be stored—within the continental U.S. or overseas.

While municipalities generally have the same goal in mind of securely and safely serving the public, each community is different and has varying technology needs. Each municipality needs to consider: which cloud offering(s) make sense to them, which are the most cost effective, and which “as a Service model” will best help IT manage the day to day technology challenges.

 

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